House of Lords
Wednesday 9 November 2016
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.
India: UK Ex-Servicemen
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the authorities in India about the continued imprisonment of six United Kingdom ex-servicemen who had been working on an anti-piracy ship.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government have repeatedly raised this case with the Indian Government at the highest levels. In fact, this week the Prime Minister raised it with Prime Minister Modi, making clear the importance of seeing progress on the case. However, this is a legal process and we cannot interfere with the Indian legal system. We shall continue to raise their case with the Indian Government and we shall urge the Indian authorities to bring the case to an early conclusion.
My Lords, the thoughts of many of us will be with the uncertain implications of the US election result but for six families in Britain, their focus remains entirely on bringing home the six men who were legitimately engaged in fighting piracy and have been trapped in India for three years. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister raised this issue with Prime Minster Modi and that he appeared to indicate that when the appeal process is over, he would if necessary be prepared to look further at it, but since administrative delays in the appeal process are part of the problem, can the Minister assure me that the pressure will be kept up?
Yes, and I thank the noble Lord for making a very important point. Our thoughts are with the men and their families. These men come from all parts of the United Kingdom, from communities familiar to many of us. As the noble Lord will be aware, the British Government, through the Diplomatic Service, have been engaging consistently with the Indian authorities both diplomatically to facilitate a swift process and to support the men while in detention. The noble Lord may be aware that the case called in the court yesterday, and was continued until 21 November. I understand that only initial arguments were presented and that no substantive decision was made.
My Lords, of course, our thoughts are with those men and their families. They were carrying out work on behalf of all of us in protecting international shipping. My understanding is that BEIS and other departments give licence, and £450 million is spent each year on defending ships from piracy. In the light of the situation in India, what advice is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office giving to people who are thinking of undertaking this work?
The noble Lord will understand that we have to accept the right of individuals to make free choices about what they do and where they work. Clearly, the activity in which these six British nationals were engaged is a risk area. Therefore, while the Foreign and Commonwealth Office cannot intervene in the individual decisions of people as to what they seek to do, it urges careful consideration before any decisions are made.
My Lords, the Government have apparently raised this case over 30 times since 2013. Is it not time to refer it to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, or to urge the Indian Government to agree to allow complaints of human rights breaches to be referred to the UN Human Rights Committee?
The Commonwealth may have a locus in this. The United Kingdom Government have been more concerned with being directly focused on the specific situation of the six British nationals. As I said earlier, to that extent, the United Kingdom Government, through the Diplomatic Service, have been responsible for greatly assisting the men with matters such as visitation and support within the prison, and ensuring that charitable agencies can also lend support. The United Kingdom, through the Diplomatic Service, has been the facilitator for these improvements.
Following those last points, is my noble friend reasonably satisfied with the conditions in which these men are being held? Can she say something about that?
I understand that the conditions are acceptable—indeed, better than those available to many Indian nationals. I understand that they do not share cells and there is a right to exercise and to have visits. Indeed, when families or friends have visited from abroad, these visits have been extensive, affording quality time with the prisoners. As I said to the noble Baroness on the Liberal Democrat Benches, the Diplomatic Service has also ensured that charitable agencies have been involved so that there is other support such as food supplies and access to medical advice.
My Lords, going back to my noble friend’s question, there is no doubt that the people who are put on board merchant ships have caused the greatest drop in piracy in that region. No ship that has had these armed guards has ever been taken by pirates, so this has been very effective. There have always been great complexities associated with floating armouries and the rules they operate under, but they have been to the great benefit of global shipping and we should really support them—indeed, we have, tentatively. Do we give advice to people? A number of companies are involved, and it is no good just saying that it is up to them to do it. Some sort of advice should be given. What is that advice?
Although I understand the substance of the point made by the noble Lord, as a matter of principle it is important to distinguish between the extent to which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can control the decisions of individuals who decide to work abroad—in any arena—and the extent to which we have to accept that individuals have to make judgments for themselves. As the noble Lord says, it is important to try to address and reduce piracy. It is of course also incumbent on the companies operating in that arena to comply with international law and ensure they do not engage in activity, or find themselves in circumstances, which breach that law. In this case, I understand that the nationals consider they have a defence. The matter is before the Indian courts. We must respect that and leave the Indian legal process to dispatch that obligation.
My Lords, will my noble friend explain to the House whether we have made common cause with countries such as Denmark, which is even more dependent on moving goods by sea? I should declare an interest, in that I am half-Danish. It has suffered great losses and many merchant navy seamen have been imprisoned. Have we made common cause with other European countries, such as Denmark, to combat piracy?
I cannot say specifically what activity the United Kingdom Government have engaged in with Denmark, but my noble friend will understand that this is an area before the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The United Kingdom Government are constantly assessing the situation and trying to ensure, if British nationals are involved, that their employers respect and observe international law and think of their employees, so that they do not engage in activity which may cross the line of breaching international law.
NHS: Cancer Patients
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the latest NHS data on timely diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients.
My Lords, the NHS is meeting six out of eight cancer waiting times standards, with the other two being missed by less than 3%. This is against a backdrop of a more than 90% increase in urgent referrals—that is more than 800,000 more people—and treating nearly 50,000 more patients following a GP referral compared to 2010, an increase of 20%.
Why are the regional variations in early cancer diagnosis so very large? For example, the worst is Lincolnshire West at 33% while the best is West Sussex at 61%. Does the Minister agree with Cancer Research UK and the Royal College of Radiologists that an important factor in the NHS missing early diagnosis targets is the shortage of staff to actually do scans, procedures and lab tests?
The new cancer dashboard has given us much more transparency around the country, so at least we now know where the problems are. The noble Lord is absolutely right that the critical area is early diagnosis, which is why one of the targets coming out of the new cancer strategy is that everyone should have a definite diagnosis within 28 days of an urgent referral. He is also absolutely right that one of the major constraining factors is workforce. We will be training an extra 200 non-medical endoscopists over the next couple of years, which should help considerably, but it remains an issue and Health Education England is due to report back in March 2017.
My Lords, can the Minister tell me whether we are now widely using the form of radiotherapy for cancer which is much less invasive? I think it is called IMRT and we have discussed it in this House before. Is it widely in use now in the National Health Service?
My noble friend is right; the use of IMRT has increased from around 10% to about 40% in the past year—so it is increasing greatly. There is much less collateral damage with IMRT. We have also, as my noble friend will know, commissioned two proton beam centres, at the Christie and UCLH, which will also make a difference. We have just announced a £130 million investment in new linear accelerator machines. Those three developments will, I think, greatly improve our ability to deliver world-class radiotherapy.
My Lords, is it not time for a bit of honesty on this? The two targets the Government are missing are the crucial ones of the 62-day cancer treatment waiting time and the two-week wait for referral for patients with suspected cancer. The Government have said that early diagnosis and quick treatment are essential, but those two targets relate exactly to those key points. The Minister knows that, in the mandate for this year, the Government said to NHS England that this must be a priority. But, given the huge funding and staffing pressures on the NHS, is it not time for the Government to come clean and admit that they cannot deliver this?
I think I was being honest, actually. I have never hidden the fact that these targets are very tough and difficult to meet. But we have increased activity enormously. We accept that early diagnosis is critical and probably as important as the 62-day referral for treatment target, which is why the 28-day target from urgent referral to diagnosis is so critical and will be one of the four key targets that will be in the CCG assurance framework. I accept what the noble Lords says; early diagnosis is critical. We are making progress and Sir Harpal Kumar, who developed the cancer strategy a year ago, is overseeing performance and progress towards meeting those targets.
My Lords, is it not the case that many patients have their cancer picked up in an A&E department, having been sent away from their GP several times?
The noble Baroness is right. In 2006 one in five of all new cancers was picked up in an emergency setting. That has reduced to one in four. We are making progress. I think we all accept that our performance on cancer outcomes has lagged behind the best in Europe. The strategy developed by Harpal Kumar is designed to address that. We are making progress but we have some way to go.
My Lords, what is being done, additionally, towards the prevention of cancer? There is a lot of feeling that the food chain is adulterated through the use of pesticides and such like. Will the Minister consider doing work in the direction of prevention and investigating possible causes?
My Lords, considerable research is going on into precisely the area that the noble Lord refers to. He talked about prevention, which is a hugely important area. Early awareness is also very important. We are running these Be Cancer Aware campaigns; at the moment there is a campaign going on around lung cancer to get early detection. I will investigate further and see what we are doing to investigate the root causes of cancer—whether there is any link to pesticides, for example.
Further to the opposition spokesman’s comments, will the Minister confirm that in terms of prevention, treatment and cure, we are well behind the coefficients of most other advanced countries?
There are lies, damned lies and cancer statistics. It is extremely difficult to make comparisons on survival rates with other countries. There is evidence that we are behind the best in Europe on five-year survival rates. There is also considerable evidence that we are making good progress—but, of course, other countries are making good progress at the same time. If we implement the cancer task force recommendations, it is estimated that we will save an extra 30,000 people’s lives per annum. We have a very ambitious programme to improve cancer outcomes, but I accept that we are starting from some way back from the best performance in Europe.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that early diagnosis depends on patients or potential patients recognising the symptoms? Notwithstanding the pressure on services, are the Government continuing to encourage patients to recognise potential cancer symptoms?
The noble Baroness makes a very good point and the answer is yes, we are. Public Health England has a big awareness campaign. As I mentioned, a campaign on lung cancer has just finished. I think that there have been 11 campaigns to raise awareness over the past six years. The National Screening Committee is constantly modernising and updating our screening processes, and has introduced new screening processes that can be done at home—both bowel cancer screening and the HPV screening process for cervical cancer.
Saudi Arabia: Migrant Workers
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the government of Saudi Arabia about the recent withholding of wages due to migrant workers by large and medium-sized companies.
My Lords, the Government take the rights of migrant workers very seriously, as the Prime Minister made very clear in her speech at this year’s United Nations General Assembly in September. Where we have concerns over legislation or regulatory protections for migrant workers, we raise these with Governments. However, we cannot intervene in specific labour disputes, including investigating reports of third-country migrant workers not receiving payments due to them.
I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, but does she agree that this issue is a British one, as a British doctor working at the Saad hospital in Khobar has lost wages? It is also a Commonwealth issue because hundreds if not thousands of migrant workers from the Indian subcontinent have also lost their pay. Will the Government arrange the strongest possible protest to Saudi Arabia, which I note is able to wage two wars at the same time in neighbouring countries?
I must apologise to the noble Lord; with some difficulty, due to the background noise, I heard only part of his question. If I may deal with the first issue, which I think concerns British nationals, I can confirm that officials in the British embassy in Riyadh have been in contact with the British nationals in Saudi Arabia who are in a similar situation as third-country migrant workers not receiving payment. The advice of the British embassy, which I encourage anyone experiencing problems to follow, is to seek legal advice by engaging an independent lawyer qualified in local law who can advise on rights and methods of redress. That is not something that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can intervene upon.
I think the latter part of the noble Lord’s question concerned the role of the Commonwealth. He makes the point that there may be migrant workers in Saudi Arabia from Commonwealth countries. With respect, it is for these Commonwealth countries to determine how they wish to address these issues and what steps if any they wish to take on behalf of their citizens who are in the position of being in Saudi Arabia and may not have been paid their due wages.
My Lords, if the major construction companies in Saudi Arabia, including the Binladin group, cannot afford to pay their workers, is the Government’s strategy to replace European markets with new export markets in countries such as Saudi Arabia perhaps not going to be very successful?
I have to apologise; I simply could not hear the question. I am going to have to ask the noble Lord to write to me. I do not know what is going on outside but it is, to say the least, distracting.
My Lords, perhaps we should consider suspending proceedings until the noise has stopped because it is impossible to hear what we are doing.
My Lords, I believe that what has happened is that, because we are sitting early for a Wednesday, the builders who normally have a free run of the place are cleaning some of the stonework outside. I think we should adjourn the House for five minutes while this matter is sorted out.
My Lords, some of the major construction companies in Saudi Arabia, including the Binladin group, are unable to pay the wages of their construction workers. Does this not suggest that the Saudi economy is now in such a poor state that the Government’s hopes that we can replace sales to the European market by sales to markets such as Saudi Arabia are perhaps a little overoptimistic?
I must thank the noble Lord for a question which I could hear, articulated so succinctly. No one is disguising that there are challenges for the Saudi Arabian economy. It is however the case that the United Kingdom has a long history of friendship, understanding and co-operation with Saudi Arabia based on a number of areas, including defence, security, trade and investment. It is also the case that Saudi Arabia is recognising the need to diversify its economy. That is why it recently conceived something called the 2030 vision, in which the UK has been invited to play a part. I suggest to the noble Lord that if an economy is facing challenges, it is important that international partners do what they can to support it.
I am sure the noble Baroness is aware of the dreadful circumstances in which some of these workers are housed and their conditions in the workplace. Some of them have their fare paid for to get to Saudi Arabia, but they do not have it paid for when they are sacked without notice. The condition of their housing is absolutely disgraceful. They cannot afford to seek legal advice; they cannot afford to go home; they are virtually kidnapped in that country. I underscore to her that if we can do anything on a humanitarian basis, through whatever channels the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has, I very much hope that the Government will do it.
I know that the noble Baroness echoes a sentiment which will strike a chord with all of us. I suggest that it is for third countries and their Governments to determine how best to protect the interests of their citizens, whether at home or abroad. As I indicated to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, the United Kingdom Government can try to assist the position of British nationals. That is what we endeavour to do by consular engagement and by engagement with the British embassy in Riyadh. At the end of the day, when it comes to internal issues about whether workers are due money, that is a matter for Saudi Arabian law, and they need to involve suitably qualified lawyers to give advice.
The noble Baroness may recall that the previous Government withdrew core funding from the UN’s International Labour Organization. Does not this case—and others—underline that we should review that decision and work with other global organisations, such as the International Trade Union Confederation, to protect workers wherever they are?
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, for his question. Saudi Arabia, as he is aware, is a member of the International Labour Organization, as is the United Kingdom. Indeed, as long ago as 1975, the ILO adopted a migrant workers recommendation which specifically detailed provisions to protect migrant workers, including enjoyment of effective equality of opportunity and treatment with nationals of the member country. I would say to the noble Lord that this is a locus for the United Nations and the International Labour Organization within the UN, and I am sure that all member states would be interested in looking at it.
My Lords, I support the thrust of the original Question, having seen at first hand how people can get caught in a very difficult situation. Does the Minister agree that the best way of tackling this with the Saudis is to address the situation of British citizens, for which we have a clear and unarguable locus? They are quite capable of drawing the conclusions from the representations that we will make.
I thank the noble Lord for his contribution. I emphasise that we do have a responsibility for British nationals—we are very cognisant of that. We do everything we can at international level to represent our concerns. We have been doing that consistently, and that is a message that we constantly relay to Saudi Arabia. Where we can intervene with any form of support for British nationals who find themselves in an unwelcome and difficult situation, we will reflect fully on how best we can support them.
My Lords, further to the Minister’s comments about the Saudi economy, although it is one thing to co-operate on security and intelligence, is it really wise—in a region that is absolutely brimming full of armaments—to continue to sell them on such a large scale to Saudi Arabia?
I thank my noble friend for his question. The United Kingdom Government take their arms export licensing responsibilities very seriously. As he will know, we operate one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. The test we apply is simple: whether there is a clear risk in relation to international humanitarian law that those items subject to the licence might be used in a serious violation of international humanitarian law. That is kept under careful and continual review.
Turkish HDP Party
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking following the detention on 4 November of Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, the co-chairs of the Turkish HDP party.
My Lords, we continue to follow developments in Turkey closely and underline the importance of the rule of law and protection of freedom of expression. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised these issues during his visit to Turkey on 25 and 27 September, as have America and the Minister for Europe with Turkey’s Minister for Europe, Ömer Çelik, most recently in a phone call on 7 November. The European Union issued a statement on 8 November.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I represent the Council of Europe on the Venice Commission, which has called for the restoration of parliamentary inviolability of MPs. Far too many members of the middle class are now being locked up, and the Turkish Government have overstepped the line—in so far as there is a line—between what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. It is quite a long time since the coup. Will the Minister, in co-operation with other friendly embassies in Ankara, make arrangements for the European Union Ministries and the British Government to be represented, as appropriate, at all the court hearings held in this regard, and for regular reports to be send back to the chanceries of Europe?
My Lords, my noble friend makes important points and is quite right in what he says. My right honourable friend the Minister for Europe has emphasised these points on human rights, freedom of the press and the rule of law in his conversations. We work with other like-minded embassies to monitor particularly the highest-profile cases. We will look carefully at what the noble Lord has said.
My Lords, is there any suggestion that the independence of the judiciary is compromised in this matter, or that the process is not being conducted in accordance with Turkey’s national legislation? Is HDP’s affiliation in conflict with the EU and US designated list?
The noble Viscount’s point about the judiciary has been made very plain in the many bilaterals that are taking place with the Turkish Government. We urge the HDP to sever any links with PKK and renounce violence and, more importantly, urge that all parties in Turkey return to the peace process.
My Lords, during the referendum campaign the current Foreign Secretary promised that Turkey was about to join the European Union and gain free movement. Is that now the official view of the Foreign Office, or is it now switching gear, as one hopes it might, to consider whether there will be Kurdish refugees coming from Turkey to join the substantial Kurdish population in London, and that we need to co-operate with our European partners in preparation for that?
My Lords, the position of the Foreign Office has not changed, so the UK remains committed to driving reform, embedding stability and addressing shared challenges, such as security and migration in Turkey. I underline the fact that our bilateral relations with Turkey are very good.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the HDP who has been imprisoned, is a political friend. He is not a terrorist sympathiser; he is an elected representative of his people. While I understand Turkey’s sensitivities about terrorism, does the Minister agree that the President is using the coup, which we wholeheartedly condemn, to purge liberal and secular opponents, and to attack the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law?
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, makes important points. They are foremost in the conversations between Her Majesty’s Government and the Turkish Government.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that this is part of a wider purge in removing checks and balances to the authoritarian rule of the President, and reversing much of the Kemalist secular tradition? Does this not mean that the prospect, however dim, of Turkey joining the European Union must be put back even further, particularly because, even after Brexit, Turkey is losing one of its major advocates for its entry to the European Union?
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, as usual, makes some very valid points. On the European aspect of his question, the annual enlargement package—the annual report on those countries wishing access to the European Union—was published earlier today. We welcome the publication of this communication and we will carefully study the detail and recommendations of the Commission’s report in the coming days.
Private Notice Question
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what urgent steps they will take to restore confidence in the Metropolitan Police following the conclusions of Sir Richard Henriques report into Operation Midland.
My Lords, allegations of sexual offences are among the most serious to be investigated by the police. The police have a responsibility to investigate such allegations, thoroughly, sensitively and with rigour, so that the facts can be established. Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe was right to ask Sir Richard Henriques to carry out this independent report, and it is now for the Metropolitan Police to address the findings and take action where necessary.
I thank the Minister for her reply. An initial reading of the report suggests that the operation fell short on a number of issues of natural justice. I want to ask the Minister about one: will she make sure that her department issues guidance that people under investigation should remain anonymous until the police are in a position to bring charges?
My Lords, we had a very good debate on this in the last couple of weeks and there is a general principle: people should remain anonymous before charge, but there are circumstances in which names may be released and it is in order for victims to come forward. I must say to the noble Baroness that victims’ groups support that principle.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of us saw at first hand the suffering of Lord Brittan, who died before his name could be cleared? Can the Minister explain why the text of this report, which appears an appalling indictment of the Metropolitan Police, cannot be published absolutely in full? Secondly, why could a copy of it not have been given to Lady Brittan before it was made public? Why could she not see the full report? Lastly, is it correct—as reported in some newspapers—that the search warrant for Lord Brittan’s house after he died was made out in the name of Lord Brittan, which, if true, would surely be improper procedure?
I am sure my noble friend will understand if I do not talk about individual cases, but I certainly concur with his point: suffering arises when people have their names released and are guilty of nothing. However, by the same token, victims often do not come forward because they are frightened, but they need to feel that they can in these situations. The report was commissioned by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and therefore its publication arrangements and whom he distributes it to are matters for him to decide.
My Lords, since manifest injustice results from the publication of names before charge, is it not a matter of urgency that the whole law and practice should be reviewed independently at the highest level and should not rely solely on the views of the police?
My Lords, it is the view of the Government that there should be a presumption of pre-charge anonymity, unless it is for victims who previously felt unable to come forward to do so. I must stress that victims’ groups are very supportive of some situations where it is right that names are released.
Was Lord Bramall given a copy of this report prior to publication in full? Two Members of your Lordships’ House, one tragically dead, the other still alive, have been traduced in the most vile and improper way. The reputation of a former Prime Minister has been trashed. A former Member of Parliament, who was certainly not guilty of the appalling things with which he was charged, has also had his life ruined. We must, I suggest to your Lordships and my noble friend, have a further debate on this. Can we please have copies of the report in the Library before we have such a debate?
My Lords, there will be a debate later today, if my noble friend would care to sit through the Committee stage of the Policing and Crime Bill. My noble friend and I do not disagree that there should be a presumption of anonymity, but it is important, in certain cases, for the police to be able to release names. The publication arrangements for the report are, as I have said, a matter for the commissioner to decide on.
My Lords, can the Minister comment on the criteria for deciding which names should be divulged and which should not? To use the language of victimhood, we are creating victims as well as defending victims.
Could the right reverend Prelate repeat the last bit of that question?
My point was that we are creating victims as well as defending them; we are creating new ones. What are the criteria—that was the essential question—for deciding when anonymity ought to be breached and names put out?
The criterion is generally that it should be in the public interest for a name to be released. We can all think of examples where names have been released and somebody has been found not to have committed any crime at all. However, it is important in law to balance that with the importance of victims coming forward and not being frightened to do so.
My Lords, we note that, by remarkable coincidence, this report appears to have come out on the same day as the American presidential election result, which is very interesting. The Government’s reply to the Question appeared to be that it is for the Metropolitan Police to act. Does that mean that the Government will not even ask the Metropolitan Police what they are doing, including, for example, ensuring that at least in future there are adequate internal systems for regularly reviewing such major investigations to determine, among other things, whether there is still a case for continuing with them? Surely the Government do not intend just to sit back, do nothing and say that this is purely a matter for the Metropolitan Police.
My Lords, it was the commissioner who asked Sir Richard Henriques to carry out the independent report. It is now for the Metropolitan Police to address the findings of that report, and to take action where necessary.
My Lords, running throughout this report are two palpably obvious issues: the quality of officers at the top of any police service in this country and leadership. I spoke on this matter in Committee on the Policing and Crime Bill last week, as did the noble Lords, Lord Condon and Lord Blair, two former Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police. We raised very grave concerns that the requirements for training and selection of senior officers had been allowed to diminish to a point almost of invisibility, one example of which was the sale of the Police Staff College, which has not been replaced. Given that I am to have a meeting at the Home Office next week, will the Minister reassure your Lordships’ House that the issues of quality and leadership will be elevated to a point of prime concern in the Home Office, and will not remain almost invisible, as they are at the moment?
My Lords, I preface my comments by saying that the sale of a building is not, in itself, the most important aspect of those issues. However, what the noble Lord says about the quality of leaders and officers in the Metropolitan Police, and the police in general, is very important. We will have further debates on this. Certainly, the training and leadership of police forces that protect the public are of the utmost importance.
My Lords, it is patently unsatisfactory that the full report is not produced for the public to read. Should not the Home Office urge the commissioner of police to make it public?
My Lords, policing is independent of government. It is entirely up to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police whether he releases an independent report.
Policing and Crime Bill
Committee (4th Day)
Relevant documents: 3rd and 4th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee and 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
Clause 112: Firearms Act 1968: meaning of “antique firearm”
203A: Clause 112, page 128, line 40, leave out from beginning to end of line 2 on page 129 and insert—
“(a) either the conditions in subsection (2AA) are met or the condition in subsection (2AB) is met, and(b) if an additional condition is specified in regulations under subsection (2AC), that condition is also met.(2AA) The conditions in this subsection are that—(a) the firearm’s chamber or, if the firearm has more than one chamber, each of its chambers is either—(i) a chamber that the firearm had when it was manufactured, or(ii) a replacement for such a chamber that is identical to it in all material respects;(b) the firearm’s chamber or (as the case may be) each of the firearm’s chambers is designed for use with a cartridge of a description specified in regulations made by statutory instrument by the Secretary of State (whether or not it is also capable of being used with other cartridges).(2AB) The condition in this subsection is that the firearm’s ignition system is of a description specified in regulations made by statutory instrument by the Secretary of State.(2AC) The Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument specify either of the following conditions for the purposes of subsection (2A)(b)—(a) a condition that a number of years specified in the regulations has elapsed since the date on which the firearm was manufactured;(b) a condition that the firearm was manufactured before a date specified in the regulations.”
My Lords, Great Britain has some of the toughest gun control laws in the world. However, as matters stand, the Firearms Act 1968 exempts antique firearms held as a “curiosity or ornament” from the scope of firearms legislation, which means they can be held without a firearms certificate. The problem with the current situation is that “antique” is not defined and it is this ambiguity that Clause 112 is designed to address. The law as currently constituted places too much emphasis on how the firearm is possessed—as a curio or ornament—and not on the characteristics and definitions of what constitutes an antique firearm. To resolve these difficulties we propose to define an antique firearm by reference to functionality and will do this in two ways: first, if its chamber is capable of being used only with a cartridge of a specified description and, secondly, if its ignition system is of a specified description.
However, concerns have been raised that instead of bringing the desired certainty to this area of firearms legislation, our definition could create further uncertainty about the status of old firearms because it would be difficult, if not impossible, to rule out the possibility that some antique firearms may be capable of being used with cartridges other than those for which they were originally designed. This would mean that a significant proportion of antique firearms currently regarded as exempt would not be covered by the new definition and in consequence could become prohibited. The amendment therefore sets out that antique firearms should be defined by reference to the chamber they had when manufactured, or an identical replacement chamber, which will allow them to be subject to the exemption. If the chambering has been altered in any way to accommodate ammunition which would otherwise be a loose or imprecise fit, then the firearm will not be subject to the exemption. A firearm may still also achieve antique status based on its ignition system.
The amendment also creates a further regulation-making power to enable the Secretary of State to specify a number of years since the date of manufacture which must have elapsed for a firearm to be antique, or that the firearm must have been manufactured before a specified date. This will guard against modern reproductions benefiting from antique firearms’ exemption from the controls in the legislation. I beg to move.
Amendment 203A agreed.
Amendments 203B to 203E
203B: Clause 112, page 129, line 3, leave out “(2A)” and insert “(2AA), (2AB) or (2AC)”
203C: Clause 112, page 129, line 6, leave out “(2A)” and insert “(2AA), (2AB) or (2AC)”
203D: Clause 112, page 129, line 9, leave out “(2A)” and insert “(2AA) or (2AB)”
203E: Clause 112, page 129, line 20, leave out “58(2A)” and insert “58(2AA), (2AB) or (2AC)”
Amendments 203B to 203E agreed.
Clause 112, as amended, agreed.
Clause 113 agreed.
Clause 114: Controls on defectively deactivated weapons
203F: Clause 114, page 130, line 43, at end insert—
“(3A) Subsection (1)(b) does not apply if the weapon is transferred by means of inheritance.”
My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 203G and 203H. The Committee is pressed for time so I shall try to avoid wearying it with too much detail. At Second Reading I raised the issue of deactivated firearms covered by Clause 114 and declared my interest as an owner of one deactivated firearm. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Vicky Ford MEP and our Home Office officials, the EU is understandably hell bent on a knee-jerk reaction to the tragic events in Paris. The EU proposals are technically weak and difficult to understand, partially because of the technical terms used. I understand that a significant proportion of the briefing against Ms Ford’s position has come from the Liege proof master. Apparently that official is now being investigated regarding serious criminal matters involving firearms. If these EU provisions come into effect they will have a very serious impact on collectors, the trade in deactivated firearms and the film industry throughout the EU, which could be badly affected because it will be harder to make action films safely.
The Minister has no shortage of expert advice available to her and I am grateful to her for making her officials available to brief me. She has an excellent lead technical official in the Home Office, to whom I pay tribute, as well as access to the London and Birmingham proof masters. As a result, for many years we have had an excellent regime for deactivating firearms.
My Amendment 203F is a probing amendment that looks at inheritance, while Amendment 203G is an anti-forestalling suggestion that looks at the possible use of companies to get around the Bill’s provisions. Perhaps the best way for the Minister to respond to these two issues is to write to me, copying in the rest of the Committee.
My Amendment 203H is designed to expose the weaknesses in the EU regulations if implemented without the current UK regulations being in place as well. However, it may be more profitable to suggest a solution to the problem rather than explore it in detail. Rather than the Bill directly referring to EU legislation, would it not be better for the Minister to take an order-making power to make regulations to replace the effect sought from new Section 8A(4)(c) of the 1988 Act? Initially the regulations might be based on the EU legislation in order to keep us compliant with our EU obligations. If and when Brexit happens, the regulations under the order can easily be changed so that we revert to solely the UK deactivation regime, which will still keep us completely safe.
Bearing in mind our time constraints, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if we allow the Minister to speak now to her amendments, which cover somewhat different issues, and then to comment on my suggestion about taking an order-making power under the Bill. I have a great deal of material to put before the Committee but I hope that will not be necessary at this stage of the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, Clause 114 concerns defectively deactivated weapons. As we have heard, we have some of the toughest firearms laws in the world, and I am very pleased about that.
In this grouping the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has given notice of his intention to oppose Clause 114 standing part of the Bill, although he did not speak to that. However, I do not agree with his opposition to the clause. I think that we would want deactivated weapons to be sold or gifted to people only when they met the highest standards available. If people want to sell these weapons within the EU, they should be certified to the appropriate standard. That is the answer to the problem—not to delete the whole clause.
However, the noble Earl’s amendments raise important points that need to be considered carefully and responded to by the Government. My general position on firearms is that our legislation has had a positive effect and we should always keep matters under review, with a view to seeing where updates or amendments can be made, so that we never relax our tough approach. Having said that, I see the point the noble Earl is making—if you inherit a weapon, potentially an offence can be committed. We need to look at that, although I am not sure that we should do as he suggests.
The noble Earl also made the important point about transferrals to a body corporate, which can be used as a way of getting round legislation. I am not sure what effect the last amendment in the group would have, but he has raised some very important points and I look forward to hearing what the Minister says.
My Lords, when the Minister introduces Amendment 203K, which is about extending the period for considering an application for the renewal of a certificate, can she say whether this is being proposed because there are problems generally or in particular forces? In other words, are there just a few difficulties or is this a widespread issue, in that the police do not find eight weeks sufficient? I raise this because of the concern that 16 weeks might easily become the norm, given the opportunity to extend.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for outlining his amendments. As he suggests, I will first explain the government amendments in this group.
Amendments 203J and 203K respond to amendments tabled by Geoffrey Clifton-Brown at Commons Report stage. They seek to make two improvements in the operation of the licensing arrangements under the Firearms Act of 1968. Amendment 203J would remove some of the unnecessary administrative requirements that currently apply to the possession of expanding ammunition.
Expanding ammunition is designed to expand predictably on impact and was prohibited initially in relation to pistols in 1992. In 1997 the ban was extended to all such ammunition, even though it is in universal use for pest control and is required for deer-stalking under the Deer Act and Deer (Scotland) Act.
The current legislation does allow for expanding ammunition to be possessed, in order to carry out specific activities such as the lawful shooting of deer, estate management, the humane killing of animals or the shooting of animals for the protection of other animals or humans. However, the legislation also requires that the individual possess a suitably conditioned firearm certificate for these activities.
The amendment would allow for the possession, purchase, acquisition, sale or transfer of expanding ammunition for rifles where the individual is in possession of a valid firearm certificate or a visitors firearm permit. The effect is—and I hope this goes some way toward answering the noble Baroness’s question—that the police will no longer have to include additional conditions on a certificate or permit, thereby removing some of the administrative burden that the current regime places on them.
Amendment 203K is intended to address the issues that currently arise with an application for the renewal of a firearms certificate that has been made prior to the expiry of the certificate but has not been determined by the police in time. Police forces have developed two different approaches in these cases. The first is to allow the applicant to remain in possession of the firearm, shotgun or ammunition, which means the applicant is in breach of Section 1 or Section 2 of the 1968 Act until the application has been processed. The second is to issue a temporary permit using the power in Section 7 of the Act.
I am sure noble Lords will agree that it is not appropriate for certificate holders to be at risk of arrest and prosecution for an offence under Section 1 or Section 2 because the police have failed to process applications in time. Equally, it is not appropriate for the police to issue temporary permits to individuals whose substantive applications may subsequently be refused. The issuing of such permits also places an increased administrative burden on the police.
Amendment 203K will bring greater clarity in such circumstances by automatically extending the validity of firearm and shotgun certificates past their expiry date for a limited period of up to eight weeks. This will apply only where an application for renewal has been received by the police at least eight weeks prior to the date of expiry of the certificate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether the problems were widespread or localised to particular forces. There were different levels of performance across different forces, and performance varies across some forces, meaning that some are better that others—so this is force-led.
Amendments 234A and 234B are consequential amendments to the extent clause.
I trust the Committee will agree that the two new clauses make sensible changes to the firearms regime and in doing so reduce the administrative burdens on the police without compromising public safety.
As my noble friend explained, his amendments relate to Clause 114, which strengthens the controls on deactivated firearms and thereby enhances public protection. I was pleased to meet my noble friend to discuss his concerns about this clause and I know that he has had a useful follow-up meeting, as he explained, with officials and one of the proof houses.
My noble friend has pointed to some of the difficulties that have been identified with the EU deactivation standards. The UK has some of the toughest gun laws in the world and some of the most robust deactivation standards in Europe. The need for consistent, robust deactivation across member states has been the driving force for EU implementing regulation.
While the new EU deactivation specifications have been introduced, we have recognised that we need to strengthen deactivation measures for certain firearms. We now require additional measures that will align the EU standards with the exacting standards for deactivated weapons already in place in the UK. We have agreed this position with the European Commission. Moreover, the Commission has set up a small group of technical experts to help interpret and, if necessary, revise the standards, and the UK is represented on this group.
Some noble Lords may argue that, following the referendum result, we should drop this provision from the Bill. However, on leaving the EU we will still want to ensure that individuals comply with the relevant deactivation standards that we have in place. To that end, I am ready to explore future-proofing the definition of a defectively deactivated weapon as used in the clause.
I hope I have been able to reassure my noble friend that the offence in Clause 114 is necessary to strengthen our firearms controls, and that, having aired this important issue, he will be content to withdraw his amendment and support Clause 114 standing part of the Bill—and the Government’s amendments in this group.
I should have said in my earlier contribution that of course we fully support the government amendments in this group. However, I saw that they will cover only England, Scotland and Wales, and not Northern Ireland. Is that because Northern Ireland already has other provisions? The other parts of the Bill will of course cover all parts of the United Kingdom.
I did know the answer to that but I have forgotten it. Rather than give the noble Lord the wrong answer, I will double-check that and write to him and the Committee in due course.
My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s response, and in particular for her final words, when she agreed to have a look at how we future-proof the arrangements. I hope that that will mean that in due course a Government will future-proof it, and then we will be able to do what we want. In the meantime, we can comply with our EU obligations, which of course we have to comply with. Although Brexit means Brexit, we have to comply at the moment. We will get a good solution—we are in a good place on this, and of course there is no question that I will oppose Clause 114. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 203F withdrawn.
Amendments 203G and 203H not moved.
Clause 114 agreed.
Amendments 203J and 203K
203J: After Clause 114, insert the following new Clause—
“Controls on ammunition which expands on impact
(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended in accordance with subsections (2) and (3).(2) In section 5 (weapons subject to general prohibition), in subsection (1A), for paragraph (f) substitute—“(f) any ammunition which is designed to be used with a pistol and incorporates a missile designed or adapted to expand on impact;”.(3) In section 5A (exemptions from requirement of authority under section 5), in subsection (8)(a), after “which”, in the first place it occurs, insert “is designed to be used with a pistol and”.(4) In consequence of the amendment made by subsection (2), omit section 9 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997.”
203K: After Clause 114, insert the following new Clause—
“Limited extension of firearm certificates etc
(1) After section 28A of the Firearms Act 1968 (certificates: supplementary) insert—“28B Certificates: limited extension(1) This section applies where—(a) an application is made for the renewal of a certificate on or before the day which falls 8 weeks before the day at the end of which the certificate is due to expire, but(b) the chief officer of police does not determine whether or not to grant the application before the certificate is due to expire.(2) The certificate continues in force by virtue of this subsection until whichever of the following events occurs first—(a) the chief officer determines whether or not to grant the application;(b) the extension period ends.(3) In subsection (2), “the extension period” means the period of 8 weeks beginning with the day after the day at the end of which the certificate was due to expire.(4) If the event mentioned in subsection (2)(a) occurs first, and the chief officer grants the application, any period for which the certificate continued in force under subsection (2) is to be treated for the purposes of section 28A(1) as part of the period for which the renewed certificate is in force.(5) This section does not apply in relation to the renewal of a certificate granted or last renewed in Northern Ireland.”(2) In consequence of the amendment made by subsection (1), in section 28A of that Act (certificates: supplementary), after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) Subsection (1) is subject to the provision made by section 28B for circumstances in which a certificate may continue in force after the period of five years from the date when it was granted or last renewed.””
Amendments 203J and 203K agreed.
Clause 115: Applications under the Firearms Acts: fees
204: Clause 115, page 131, line 33, leave out from “specify” to end of line 34 and insert “that the fee charged must be equal to the full cost to the public purse of issuing the certificate.”
My Lords, I will at least attempt to be concise. The Bill deals with relatively narrow issues around Home Office licensing fees for firearms, but I will also talk about police licence fees for guns. These amendments seek to ensure that the full costs of licensing are recovered. In the previous Parliament we argued for full cost recovery in the light of a current taxpayer subsidy for gun ownership of some £17 million a year. The police have estimated that the cost of licensing a firearm is nearly four times the fee charged. A higher fee was introduced just prior to the last general election following negotiations with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation—rather than following an independent review—but it was still less than half the cost of licensing a firearm based on the police figures. These amendments require the Secretary of State to set the cost of a licence fee for prohibited weapons, pistol clubs and museums at full cost to the taxpayer, but we expect the Government to extend this requirement of full cost recovery to Section 1 firearms and the police.
When this matter was debated in the Commons, the Government said that once the new police online system, e-commerce, was introduced, fees would recover the full cost of licensing. Can they say when the new online system will be introduced, whether the full costs of licensing will be charged from the day it comes in, and what they consider the fees for police licences will have to be increased to in order to cover the full costs? Can they also say why it is necessary to await the introduction of the new online system? The fees were increased in April last year but still left a significant taxpayer subsidiary; why can they not be increased now to cover the full cost of licensing, and, if necessary, subsequently reduced accordingly if the new online system does reduce the cost of licensing a firearm? Why should scarce police financial resources have to be spent on subsidising gun ownership rather than on fighting crime?
In respect of the Home Office licence fees, the Government said in the Commons that,
“the authorisation and licensing of prohibited weapons, shooting clubs and museums costs the taxpayer an estimated £700,000 a year”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/4/16; col. 259.]
However, the Government then said that the Bill,
“will create a consistent set of charging powers across all Home Office firearms licences and authorities. The Government’s intention is that licence holders, and not the taxpayer, should pay the full cost”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/4/16; col. 259.]
When do the Government intend that Home Office licence holders will start to pay the full costs of licensing, and by how much do they estimate fees will have to be increased to cover these costs? Why is there is a need for any extended delay in raising Home Office licence fees to a level which eliminates any taxpayer subsidy. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to which my noble friend Lady Hamwee and I have added our names. My argument is quite simple: when we were discussing the Immigration Act, the Government proposed a philosophy of full cost recovery for visa applications and the Immigration Service generally. On 18 March this year, they increased the fees for visa applications, in some cases by 25%. Family and spouse visas are now £1,195, adult dependent relative visas are £2,676, and settlement applications have increased to £1,875. British citizen naturalisation certificates are now £1,156 for adults and £936 for children.
There is currently a government consultation on immigration appeal fees, which proposes an even greater increase to ensure full cost recovery. The consultation suggests a fee for an appeal on the papers to the First-tier Tribunal should increase from £80 to £490, and from £140 to £800 for an oral hearing. If the Minister is not going to agree with these amendments to ensure full cost recovery for the issuing of firearms certificates, will she explain why a different approach is being taken to the principle of full cost recovery when it comes to immigration? In particular, can she refute the obvious allegation that the Government are discriminating against foreign nationals as set against those who go hunting with guns for sport?
My Lords, I have some sympathy for the position articulated by noble Lords opposite. However, it needs to be remembered that shooters have to buy their guns, ammunition and facilities and that they pay value added tax at 20%. There is actually huge government revenue from the shooting fraternity, as 20% of everything they spend on shooting comes back to the Government. I can see the noble Lord, Lord Harris, getting very excited. It must be a very powerful argument. I have expressed sympathy for the noble Lords’ position but I give a note of caution: we should not forget the tax revenues from shooting.
My Lords, the noble Earl has goaded me into intervening in this debate, which I would otherwise not have done. It is a specious argument to say that because gun owners have to pay VAT, which we all have to pay on most goods and services except that very narrow range which is specifically exempted, they are therefore making their contribution to the costs. My noble friend Lord Rosser and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, have pulled their punches on this issue. What is actually happening is that the Government have selected one hobby and decided to subsidise it. I would like the Government to explain what other hobbies they intend to subsidise in exactly the same way. If noble Lords opposite, or anybody else, choose to argue that gun ownership is not a hobby then presumably they intend to use the guns for some perhaps less than satisfactory purpose. Again, I wonder why the Government choose to subsidise that activity as opposed to any other.
My Lords, I can give the noble Lord an example. I collect classic military and commercial vehicles but there is no road fund tax on them. They are zero rated; that is a subsidy from the Government to people who collect such vehicles. My point is that owners and shooters of firearms pay tax like everyone else. If they did not have their guns, they would not be paying any value added tax on them. It is a simple little point that we should not forget.
Presumably the noble Earl pays VAT on those purchases.
My Lords, the Government agree that fees for firearms licences should be set on a cost-recovery basis. We have already increased the fees for civilian firearms and shotgun certificates issued by the police in line with this objective. Clause 115 addresses firearms licences issued by the Home Office and the Scottish Government. They therefore concern fees for licences to possess non-civilian prohibited weapons, and for shooting clubs and museums. Currently, most of these types of licence do not attract a fee. Where a fee is charged, it is set at a level well below the cost of administering an application.
Amendments 204 to 206 would require the Government to set all fees at a level that would achieve full cost recovery. The administration of these licences, including assistance from the police, costs the taxpayer an estimated £700,000 a year. The Government agree that licence holders, not the taxpayer, should pay for this service. Clause 115 therefore provides a power for the Home Secretary to set fees for these licences. As the then policing Minister, Mike Penning, explained when similar amendments were debated in the House of Commons, we intend that the fees should be set at a level that will achieve full cost recovery. We will then set out the proposed fees in a public consultation, which we intend to publish shortly.
The consultation will invite views on the implementation of these measures and we welcome responses. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked when the Section 5 fees are planned to be introduced. It will be in April 2017, subject to the planned consultation. I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of the consultation. However, there might be good reasons not to set fees at full cost recovery levels, either for a transitional period or for certain categories of licence holder. We will consider the responses to the consultation on these matters before deciding on the level that should be set. In doing so, we will be guided by the principle to which I referred above: that the costs of licensing should fall to the licence holder rather than to the taxpayer.
Amendment 207 relates to the fees charged by the police for shotgun and civilian firearms certificates and for registered firearms dealer licences. In 2015, we increased fees for those certificates substantially. This was the first increase in the licence fee since 2001. The increase reflected the fact that the cost of the licences had fallen far below the cost to the police of their administration. Fees increased between 23% and 76%, depending on the type of certificate.
When we consulted on the fee levels for certificates issued by the police, we were clear that the cost of licences should reflect the full cost of licensing once a new online licensing system was in place. Work is under way to secure that system. In the meantime we are committed to undertaking an annual review of the fees. There will be a comprehensive review of police licensing fees in five years’ time. I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured that it is indeed this Government’s intention that firearms fees should reflect the full cost of licensing and that on this basis he will be content to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, what consultation was there before the Government implemented full cost recovery for immigration visas with those groups that represent immigrants or those who might be applying for visas?
May I write to the noble Lord on that? I do not have the answer on timing to hand. I apologise.
I seek clarification of one or two points. Did the Minister say that as far as Home Office licence holders are concerned, they will be paying the full cost of licensing from April of next year? As far as the police are concerned, there was no real commitment at all. I asked when the new online system would be introduced. I do not think that I got an answer. I asked whether the full costs of licensing would be charged from the day the new online system came in. I do not think that I got an answer. I also asked by how much the Government considered the fees for police licences would have to be increased to cover the full costs of licensing. I believe that the Minister referred to a review of police licences and costs in five years’ time. Is this suggesting that the new online system will not be coming in for five years? If the Minister is unable to give me a firm date as to when that online system will be operational, can she give a commitment that in the meantime those fees will be raised to cover the full costs and that we shall not be in a situation in which the police, who are already short of money, are in fact subsidising gun ownership in this country with money desperately needed for main police activities? Could I please have some answers? If they are not available now, I shall as always accept a subsequent letter responding to these questions.
My Lords, in terms of the online system, the current fees are intended to cover the cost of the licencing once the online system is introduced. The police, supported by the Government, are currently developing the online system. An implementation date has not yet been determined. We plan to introduce the Section 5 fees and the increased fees for museums and clubs in April 2017, subject to the planned consultation. The level of fees will therefore be determined subject to that consultation. There is no suggestion that the new online system will take five years to implement. There will be an annual review of licence fees. I hope that I have not completely confused the noble Lord.
I do not know that the Minister has completely confused me. She has said that we do not know when the new online system is coming in, which presumably means that it has not reached the testing stage at which the Government know that it will actually deliver, yet the Government are adamant that it will not take five years. If the Government know that it will not take five years, they must be in a position to say now when they expect the system to come in. They can also say why in the meantime they will not increase the fees as far as the police licences are concerned to cover the full cost to the police. Not doing so means that the police, who are short of financial resources, are subsidising gun ownership.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right in that the taxpayer should not subsidise gun ownership. The new fees will be subject to consultation, although that was not the question he asked. He asked whether it will take five years to implement the online system. I will write to him on how long we think implementation of the online system will take, if that is okay.
I thank the Minister for her response and other noble Lords, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and my noble friend Lord Harris, who participated in this short debate. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that she will write to me on this, because the question of when the Government are gearing up to introduce the online system is crucial. I sense it will not be within the next few months—to put it bluntly, the Government do not know when it is coming in. They are not even prepared to give an estimate of the timescale, unless that will be in the letter that is to be sent. We will need to reflect further on this in the face, apparently, of a government stance that means they are quite happy, if the online system does not come in very shortly, to see the police subsidising gun ownership in this country, at a time when the police themselves are desperately short of financial resources. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 204 withdrawn.
Amendments 205 and 206 not moved.
Clause 115 agreed.
Amendment 207 not moved.
208: After Clause 115, insert the following new Clause—
“Firearms: revocation of firearms certificate
(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.(2) After section 4 (conversion of weapons) insert—“4A Revocation of firearms certificateAny person who has through negligence lost a firearm or through negligence enabled a firearm to be stolen shall have all firearms certificates in their name revoked and shall be banned from holding a firearms certificate for the rest of their life.””
My Lords, this amendment in my name raises the issue of people who, through negligence, have allowed their firearm to be lost or stolen. This seems to me something that should be taken much more seriously than it is at present. I do not want to bore the House with too many statistics, but roughly half of all recent terrorist plots that have been disrupted have involved situations in which those alleged to be the perpetrators have sought to obtain firearms.
In an average year, 800 registered firearms are lost or stolen. That means there is a seepage of firearms, most likely into the illegal economy. Whether those firearms are obtained by criminals or terrorists seems almost irrelevant. These are firearms that in many instances could kill or harm people, and certainly terrify them. In those circumstances, if an owner has negligently allowed their firearm to be lost or stolen, it seems there should be significant consequences. That is why this amendment proposes not only that they should they have all firearms certificates in their name revoked but that they should be banned from holding a firearms certificate for the rest of their life.
Those who might argue that that is a draconian penalty just need to think about what an unlicensed, stolen firearm in the hands of a criminal or a terrorist might do to somebody else’s life. This seems a punishment that fits the crime. I hope the Minister will accept that this is a serious matter and agree to take this away and tidy up whatever inadequacies there are in my drafting of the amendment, because it seems a no-brainer that we should take firm action against those who, through their negligence, allow dangerous firearms to get into the illegal economy. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, although perhaps not quite in the terms he suggested. This is a very serious problem. Any firearm that is lost or stolen will almost inevitably find its way into the hands of criminals, whether terrorists or not. It is an extremely serious problem. Because we have world-class controls on firearms, stealing firearms is one of the few ways in which criminals or terrorists can arm themselves. Clearly, there would have to be some investigation to establish whether negligence was involved or not. I understand that, at the moment, when a firearms licence is up for renewal the police will consider what the security arrangements are to store firearms and, indeed, whether any firearms have been lost or stolen by that certificate holder. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that this is not taken seriously enough at the moment, that there are very serious potential consequences and that this definitely needs further consideration.
My Lords, while I am grateful to the noble Lord for moving this amendment, I am curious about what he means by “negligence”. He talked about the problem of firearms being stolen. If a gun owner has properly kept his firearms in the storage facilities that have already been approved by the police and a burglar comes in and successfully and quite quickly gets into the gun cabinet and steals the firearms, has the firearms owner been negligent or not?
My Lords, part of the process of enacting this would be to make quite clear what qualifies as negligence. In my view, this should not apply if the gun owner has followed all the prescribed procedures, which should be quite onerous. In my understanding, gun owners are extremely careful, particularly about the storage of their weapons. I am concerned about guns that are left in the boot of a car, not necessarily in very adequate containers, or even on the back seat of a car or in circumstances where the gun owner has not locked them away in the approved fashion. Those are certainly cases where this should apply, and I hope that the threat of this action being taken would mean that all gun owners became much more responsible and acted in the way the noble Earl has suggested.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has explained, Amendment 208 would provide that:
“Any person who has through negligence lost a firearm or through negligence enabled a firearm to be stolen shall have all firearms certificates in their name revoked and shall be banned from holding a firearms certificate for the rest of their life”.
As the noble Lord indicated, this was one of the recommendations in his report for the Mayor of London on London’s preparedness to respond to a major terrorist incident, which was published last week.
It is clear that the loss or theft of firearms presents a potential risk to public safety. However, the number of firearms and shotguns that are lost remains extremely small. Any loss or theft is, of course, a cause for concern and it is right that we must take appropriate action in the case of owners who lose or enable the theft of a firearm or shotgun through negligence. I therefore considered carefully the noble Lord’s proposed amendment to the Firearms Act 1968.
When a firearm or shotgun certificate is issued, conditions are automatically included requiring the certificate holder to store their firearms securely to prevent, so far as reasonably practicable, access to the firearms by an unauthorised person. The condition also applies in circumstances where the firearm or shotgun has been removed from secure storage for cleaning, repair or testing or during transit. In these circumstances, all reasonable precautions must be taken to ensure the safe custody of the firearm. A condition is also placed on the certificate requiring the holder to notify the police within seven days of the theft, loss or destruction of a firearm or shotgun. It is an offence not to comply with these conditions, and the maximum penalty for that offence can be up to six months in prison, a fine or both.
Section 38 of the 1968 Act provides for a firearm certificate to be revoked if the chief officer of police is satisfied that the holder is,
“otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm”,
or can no longer be permitted to have a firearm in their possession without danger to the public’s safety or to the peace. Section 30C makes similar provision for the revocation of shotgun certificates. In the year ending March 2016, the police revoked just under 400 firearms certificates and almost 1,350 shotgun certificates. I assure the noble Lord that when the loss or theft of a firearm or shotgun is reported to the police, the matter is taken very seriously. In such cases the chief officer should consider whether to prosecute the certificate holder for breach of a condition on their certificate, and whether the certificate should be revoked under Sections 30A or 30C of the 1968 Act.
Noble Lords may also be reassured to know that the police intend to set minimum standards in respect of the investigation of lost or stolen firearms. This will provide a consistent national approach to the call-taking, initial response, investigation, assessment of risk and consideration of firearms licensing issues such as revocation. If a person whose certificate has been revoked applies for a new certificate at a later date, the chief officer will consider all the circumstances of the application and, if the reasons for the previous revocation can be determined, in some circumstances a user certificate might be granted. In cases where a firearms offence has been committed, the courts will consider the sentencing options available under the 1968 Act. Depending on the sentence handed down by a court, a lifetime ban may automatically be imposed on a certificate holder. Generally, persons who are sentenced to three years or more are never allowed to possess a firearm again.
The 1968 Act provides for a five-year ban where someone has been sentenced to a period of imprisonment of three months or more but less than three years. Persons who are subject to a suspended sentence of three months or more are also not allowed to possess firearms, including antique firearms, for five years. The amendment could therefore lead to a situation whereby an individual who has been imprisoned for less than three years does not receive a lifetime ban while an individual whose firearm has been lost or stolen receives a ban for life. While I fully agree that we must have robust firearms laws to preserve and maintain public safety, including safeguards to help to prevent their misuse, I am sure noble Lords will agree that our laws must be proportionate.
The inclusion on certificates of conditions governing safe storage means that firearms and shotgun certificate holders understand their responsibilities in respect of keeping their weapons secure. I am also satisfied that police forces already have the powers they need to revoke firearms or shotgun certificates in cases where the owner has lost or enabled the theft of a weapon through negligence. I hope that, having aired this important issue, the noble Lord will feel that he can withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I do not know if my noble friend the Minister has satisfied the noble Lord, Lord Harris—
I think he looks satisfied.
He does look satisfied; he always does. If he chose to come back with this at a later stage, and I hope he does not, he would need to consider disassembly. In the case of a bolt-action hunting rifle for taking deer, for example, if someone lost the rifle but kept the bolt then the rifle would not be much use. He will have to pay a bit of attention to that issue if he wants to bring this back.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to this debate, and in particular to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for raising complications about bolt-action and dealing with deer and so on—which, as he knows, are way beyond my understanding and experience of firearms matters.
I am particularly grateful to the Minister for her response, but I was concerned—and no doubt it was just a slip in the way she responded, and I might have misheard her—when she said that it was a very small number of firearms that disappear and go missing each year. In my view, 800 firearms going missing or being stolen each year is a significant number and a significant problem.
I am grateful to her also for outlining the various options available to deal with breaches of conditions and so on. I am partially reassured, but it would be interesting to know how robust and satisfactory the systems are for ensuring that, if a firearms certificate were revoked in one police force area and the same individual were to apply for a certificate in another firearms area, the information would automatically be available to the chief constable when they considered it. I rather suspect, given my experience of the way in which these matters are communicated, that there is no guarantee that the information would be available. I would be interested if the Minister would look into this matter—perhaps not today—and respond to it. I will consider very carefully what she said in her response, but, certainly for today, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 208 withdrawn.
Clause 116 agreed.
209: After Clause 116, insert the following new Clause—
“Possession of pyrotechnic articles at musical events
(1) It is an offence for a person to have a pyrotechnic article in his or her possession at any time when the person is—(a) at a place in England where a qualifying musical event is being held, or(b) at any other place in England that is being used by a person responsible for the organisation of a qualifying musical event for the purpose of—(i) regulating entry to, or departure from, the event, or(ii) providing sleeping or other facilities for those attending the event.(2) Subsection (1) does not apply—(a) to a person who is responsible for the organisation of the event, or(b) to a person who has the article in his or her possession with the consent of a person responsible for the organisation of the event.(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks (or, in relation to offences committed before section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force, 3 months), or to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale, or to both.(4) In this section, “pyrotechnic article” means an article that contains explosive substances, or an explosive mixture of substances, designed to produce heat, light, sound, gas or smoke, or a combination of such effects, through self-sustained exothermic chemical reactions, other than—(a) a match, or(b) an article specified, or of a description specified, in regulations made by statutory instrument by the Secretary of State.(5) In this section, “qualifying musical event” means an event at which one or more live musical performances take place and which is specified, or of a description specified, in regulations made by statutory instrument by the Secretary of State.(6) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
My Lords, Amendment 209 provides for a new offence of possession of pyrotechnic articles at live musical events in England. The amendment is in response to one tabled by Nigel Adams on Report in the House of Commons. The misuse of fireworks, flares and smoke bombs at festivals and other live musical events by members of the public is an increasing and deeply concerning problem. Fireworks and other pyrotechnic articles covered by the amendment are dangerous when misused. Fireworks can burn at in excess of 2,200 degrees centigrade; flares can reach temperatures of 1,600 degrees centigrade and can burn for as long as an hour. Smoke bombs also burn at high temperatures, and in enclosed or crowded spaces the thick smoke that they release can cause breathing difficulties, particularly for asthma sufferers.
In the 1980s, it was recognised that the misuse of pyrotechnic articles in crowded football stadia posed a specific public order risk. As a result, the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985 provides for an offence of possession of fireworks and flares at a football match. However, current firework and explosives legislation does not provide the police or prosecutors with an appropriate offence to tackle the possession of pyrotechnic articles at music festivals. While the majority of festival organisers have their own rules banning festivalgoers from bringing fireworks and other pyrotechnic articles on to festival premises, no statutory regulation exists. There is no offence for the use of a firework, flare or smoke bomb in a crowd on private property unless it can be proved that it was used with the intent to cause injury or that its use was likely to endanger life or seriously damage property.
Amendment 209 therefore makes it an offence for a person to be in possession of a pyrotechnic article at a qualifying musical event in England. The offence has been so constructed as to apply also where a person is in possession of such articles at a point of entry into, or exit from, the place where a qualifying musical event is taking place, or at a campsite provided for those who are attending the event.
A qualifying musical event will be defined in regulations, subject to the negative procedure. The amendment itself provides that such musical events must involve live musical performances and, in defining a qualifying event, we will want to further target the offence at those events where there is evidence of harm being caused by the misuse of fireworks, flares or smoke bombs. The maximum penalty for the offence is three months’ imprisonment, which is the same as that applicable to the existing football-related offence.
The effect of Amendment 234 is that the offence extends to England and Wales. As I indicated, it applies to England only. However, we are considering further its territorial application in consultation with the Welsh Government. Amendment 245 makes a consequential amendment to the Long Title.
This offence will help prevent the harm that can come from the misuse of such dangerous articles and allow everyone to enjoy live music events safely. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to officials for explaining the origin of the amendment to me. They commented that the Government’s view is that we should not extend the criminal law unless there is a well-founded case for doing so. I agree with that, but I have instinctive concerns about this proposal. First, what consultation has there been with the entertainment industry? This must be a matter of widespread interest. I cannot say that I go to musical events usually held in the open air—I go to rather staider events—but a lot of people will feel that they are being targeted by the measure. What consideration has been given to, first, whether there should not be a focus on the venue organiser rather than the individual, as this seems to be a matter of crowd control? Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is there no other way than creating a new specific offence? If fireworks and flares are dangerous—I accept that they are—is this not about the misuse of fireworks rather than the place or event where they may be misused? As for it being a musical event, which is to be determined by regulations, that seems to raise all sorts of problems.
I appreciate that this comes from legislation about football matches, although the 1985 Act cited by the Minister seems a little narrower, unless I have misunderstood it, because the places where the person is found to be in possession are very closely defined, including an area,
“from which the event may be directly viewed”.
When looking up that section, I came across a petition to Parliament to legalise the use of pyrotechnics at football grounds. I could not find its date, but it was rejected on the basis that it was,
“a matter for individual Local Authorities”.
That confused me even more, but I wonder what relation that point has to the amendment.
I am sorry to throw a number of questions at the Minister, but I am sure that the Government considered them before proposing the amendment.
My Lords, I am not sure whether the thrust of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was to broaden or narrow the scope—
It was to inquire.
As ever, it was a quest for information. I also have a quest for information. It seems to me unduly restrictive to apply the clause simply to musical events. What about theatrical or other events which draw large crowds? The danger of either panic or direct harm from fireworks or similar things in such large, crowded places seems quite high. There is this careful definition of,
“sleeping or other facilities for those attending”,
a musical event. Surely concerns about someone possessing a pyrotechnic article in a general campsite or some other facility are just as great.
It would therefore be helpful to understand. The purpose is clear and valuable in terms of musical events and festivals but I wonder why similar consideration has not been given to other events where there will be large gatherings of people.
My Lords, this new clause is in general most welcome and I am happy to support it from these Benches. It seeks to ban the possession of fireworks, smoke bombs and flares by those attending live musical events. As we have heard, these are extremely dangerous and can burn at more than 2,000 degrees, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, outlined. There have been a number of injuries, and perhaps we may hear more about that when she responds.
I was surprised to learn that while these items are banned at football matches, it is not the case at musical events. A valid point has been made about widening the ban to other events. That should be considered, too, rather than just picking one area of a problem that may be more widespread. If I am correct, the amendment does not stop the organisers of the event using these articles but just protects the people attending, and prevents people putting them in their bags and setting them off recklessly in the crowd.
The other amendments are consequential. I am generally supportive of them but the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made valid points that require a response from the Government.
I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and hope that I can answer their questions.
On the point regarding consultation, the proposed new offence is supported by the music industry. The national policing lead for festivals, Assistant Chief Constable Andy Battle of West Yorkshire Police, who is in charge of dealing with these sorts of events countrywide, has also welcomed the proposed legislation. Therefore, we have indeed consulted. In fact, organisers have already made it clear that fireworks should not be brought into festivals but feel that an offence is needed to provide better and greater deference to this understanding and to concentrate people’s minds.
Why does this apply only to music events? The data gathered by the crowd management organisation Showsec on behalf of Live Nation recorded 255 incidents involving pyrotechnic articles at live music events in 2014. This covered seven music festivals and other, smaller venues. This new offence is being created to target the specific problem of pyrotechnics at live music events. There is no evidence to suggest that pyrotechnic articles are a problem at other kinds of events, with the exception of football stadiums, which are covered under sporting events control.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, also asked about extending the ban outside the event. Extending the offence to include travel to a music event or festival would not only widen the scope of the offence considerably but put it at odds with current legislation on the possession of fireworks and flares. There are also practical considerations regarding how such an extension could be enforced. Police officers would need reasonable grounds to believe that individuals were travelling to a musical event with pyrotechnic articles in order to search them. In our view, this would be an onerous demand on police time. The national policing lead for music festivals, Andy Battle of West Yorkshire Police, agreed that any provision around travel would not be helpful and be problematic to enforce.
A noble Lord asked why fireworks could be included in the general celebration of the event by the organisers. We accept that pyrotechnic articles are often used as part of a performance, and we would not want to restrict that. The new offence will maintain the distinction between pyrotechnics authorised for use as part of a festival or event and those misused by the public. I hope that that has covered everything.
I did not express myself very well. I was not concerned about travel to the event. I was comparing the amendment with Section 2A of the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985, under which the offence applies when a person,
“is in any area of a designated sports ground from which the event may be directly viewed”.
I was comparing the two matters. That probably highlights the fact that musical events are different.
After hearing the response, I cannot help thinking that this is a matter of how people may use or misuse fireworks and flares in a much more general way. Does the noble Baroness know whether the regulations will address the definition of a qualifying musical event, or will they actually list particular events? She referred to the national policing lead for musical events; I had not realised there was such a post. By definition, that officer will not have given comments about events that are not musical events. If the noble Baroness has no further information—I appreciate that she may not, as we are becoming quite detailed—perhaps it is a matter for another day. But they are not invalid questions.
I might have inspiration from over my left shoulder. The offence will apply to a campsite adjacent to a festival and the regulation-making power will include a generic definition of a live musical event.
Amendment 209 agreed.
Clause 117: Meaning of “alcohol”: inclusion of alcohol in any state
Debate on whether Clause 117 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I beg to move that the clause do not stand part of the Bill and, in short, that it be deleted. If carried, the clause means that the definition of alcohol will be extended to cover all forms in which it might be presented. Specifically, it will cover powdered alcohol and vaporised alcohol, and it follows that they will then become regulated for sale in the UK under the Licensing Act 2003.
Yesterday we had a short debate on the action the Government are taking to address reports of increasing violence in prisons. The Minister replying referred to the White Paper, Prison Safety and Reform, in which there is a section on reducing the supply of and demand for illicit items. If I had been able to get into the debate yesterday, I would have asked the Minister to explain to the House how permitting for the first time in the UK the sale of powdered and vaporised alcohol will help to reduce the problems in prisons. I would be grateful if the Minister endeavoured to respond to that point. How can this change be justified against the background of the Government’s announcement last week that no-fly zones are to be imposed over jails in England and Wales to stop drones being used to smuggle drugs into prison grounds? It is against a background of numerous initiatives costing £1.3 billion that we are trying to tackle rising violence, drug use and other problems in prisons.
The Home Office may have consulted the drinks industry on this change, but did it consult its own Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for prisons, and the health authorities on how they view the proposals? I have tabled a whole range of Written Questions asking the Government about this topic and they have answered a fair number recently. I particularly asked if they would define the benefits of this change to the public. I have had no reply, so I should be grateful if the Minister told the House today what benefit the Government see from authorising the sale of powdered and vaporised alcohol.
Powdered alcohol has been around in some countries for quite a while—not vaping alcohol, which is a new development to which I will come back shortly. The production and marketing of powdered alcohol started to take off in the USA about two years ago—March 2015—when its sale was authorised by the federal bureau on drugs and drinks. This has been controversial in the States. Powdered alcohol can be consumed with fruit juices, water and other soft drinks. It can be mixed with other alcoholic drinks to double or treble their strength. It can be taken to and consumed in places where ordinary liquid alcoholic drinks cannot because they are prohibited, such as sporting and musical events, public places and on public transport. Powdered alcohol can be taken there because it cannot be detected. It can be baked, put into ice cream, and so on. A whole range of things can be done with it.
There has been an outcry in the States about the attempt to market and sell it. Opposition has grown over the months, and I understand that 27 states have banned its sale. The opposition has been such that there have been disputes about its legality, and the main producer of the main powdered alcohol—Palcohol—is having to take a different stance entirely to the one it adopted previously. It is interesting to note, too, that this year, Russia is banning the sale of powdered alcohol. Yet here we are in the UK contemplating legitimising its sale. It is true that it is not yet on sale here but as I pointed out to the Home Office, websites are already set up waiting to sell it online as soon as it is legalised for sale.
As the Home Office has conceded, alcohol in vaping form is already here. It is true that it is being presented as a novelty item, but how long will it remain as such? Indeed, is it being used as a novelty item? I do not think it will stay like that for long. The cigarette manufacturers are already moving big time into vaping. The CEO of Philip Morris, which has the big selling brand, Marlboro, and commands 30% of the market outside the USA, selling 847 billion cigarettes last year alone, said that he is on a mission to get millions more people vaping. He says he can see the day when Philip Morris stops selling cigarettes entirely, and will be totally into vaping.
So a big change is taking place—we will have a vaping future. Of course, it will not just be nicotine. Last week, I went to one of my local vaping shops in Battersea, which has 50 different vaping items on sale. As yet, they do not have alcohol, but when I talked to them about the possibility, they said, “Yes please, could you tell us when we can get our hands on it?”. The items they are already selling come from all different parts of the world, in all different concoctions. There must be a question from a health point of view about what people will be vaping and the effect over time on their health—even from what is currently available for sale.
Make no mistake: when we look at the future of vaping, what we are seeing is just the start of a major development and we should be aware of it—if indeed the Government intend to proceed with this measure. I hope they are prepared to think again. The truth is that powdered ethyl alcohol and vaping alcohol are mind and mood-altering substances little different to class C prohibited drugs, while those classified in the recently passed Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 will in due course cause the same kind of problems as the substances which have been previously been banned, if not more, particularly if vaping takes off on a big scale.
The Government should withdraw Clause 117 and to help them, I oppose its standing part of the Bill. To help them clarify the legal position—which is ostensibly their concern and why they are taking this action—I suggest they have a look at class C prohibited drugs and the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 to see whether these substances should be so classified. If not, they should simply and straightforwardly be banned.
My Lords, I rise to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, and his persistent campaign against powdered alcohol and vaping. I accept what he says about these things being mind-altering substances, but surely that is because they contain alcohol, which is an accepted mind-altering substance—no more, no less than that. I understand the concern about the way you take the alcohol. Vaping, I understand, gives a very instant hit, unlike drinking alcohol, where you get a delayed reaction. However, have we not learned lessons from the past about prohibition and, in particular, prohibition of alcohol, not being an effective way of dealing with these issues? On these Benches, we would say it is far better to regulate, license and control the use of these new substances, rather than trying to ban them.
My Lords, my name is on this amendment and we are coming on to a whole series of amendments relating to alcohol. With all due respect, I do not agree that alcohol in these alternative forms should be looked at in the same way as alcoholic drinks consumed in a social context.
The great difficulty for us and the country already is the size of the problem. In 2014 there were 8,697 alcohol-related deaths. That was an increase on the previous year and alcohol-related harms are already estimated to cost the country £21 billion a year. We know that around 9% of adult men and 4% of adult women are not taking alcohol for social consumption, but because they have alcohol dependence. Sadly, only around 7% of them are accessing any kind of treatment, so we have a huge problem. When we look at the amount of alcohol-fuelled crime and at what victims have said, over half of all victims of violence felt that the offender was under the influence of alcohol, and that is without ways of boosting the potency of the alcohol that they might be taking.
When we look at young people in particular and alcohol-related harms among those aged under 25 from 2002 to 2010, alcohol-related hospital admissions increased by 57% in young men and by 76% in girls and young women. We have a massive, looming problem of alcohol addiction and harms. The consequences of that may be handed down to the next generation, given that we know that among 15 and 16 year-olds, 11% had sex under the influence of alcohol and almost one in 10 boys and one in eight girls had unsafe sex while under the influence of alcohol. Of course, unsafe sex leads to pregnancy.
It is also important to look at children who were excluded from school, because almost half of those were regular drinkers. This is nothing to do with people’s freedom to consume alcohol socially. This is pure alcohol harm. I do not see how a school will be able to differentiate powdered alcohol from sugar or any other substance, such as sherbet that a child has in their pocket. I do not see how prison services or others will be able to differentiate alcohol vaping devices from the other types of nicotine-related vaping devices or how they will be able to have any control over the consumption of these. I have a real concern, and the reason I put my name to this amendment is that these kinds of products fuel alcohol addiction and do nothing to enhance social interaction within our society; they specifically fuel dependence and all the harms that go along with dependence. I have yet to be convinced of any benefit whatever, given that other countries that have major problems with alcohol consumption have decided that these products are too dangerous. I suggest that we should follow their lead and not risk taking these substances which we will be unable to detect or police. By allowing them for sale, they can be used to spike drinks and increase the cost to the country of alcohol-induced harms.
My Lords, Clause 117 amends the definition of alcohol in Section 191 of the Licensing Act 2003. The current definition of alcohol covers:
“Spirits, wine, beer, cider or any other fermented, distilled or spirituous liquor.”
The clause adds the words “in any state” to this definition. The purpose of this is to ensure that all alcohol, no matter in which form it is sold, is covered by the requirements of the 2003 Act.
In recent years novel products have appeared for sale in licensed premises, such as vaporised alcohol, which is designed to be inhaled either directly from the air or via an inhalation device. To our knowledge, those who have sold this form of alcohol have done so under a premises licence and there have not been problems.
However, in America there is a suggestion that a new product—powdered alcohol— may come on to the market in the near future. We wish to put it beyond doubt that alcohol, whatever form it takes, may be sold only in accordance with a licence under the 2003 Act. It is important that we make this legislative change before powdered alcohol comes on to the market. This clause will ensure that any form of alcohol sold to the public is properly regulated with relevant safeguards in place.
The current system of alcohol licensing, as provided for in the 2003 Act, seeks to promote four licensing objectives. These are: the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm. The 2003 Act also contains a number of criminal offences, including selling alcohol to a child under the age of 18 and selling alcohol without a licence.
This amendment to the definition of alcohol will ensure that the four licensing objectives continue to be met despite innovations in alcohol products, and that the public, especially children, continue to be protected from irresponsible sales of alcohol. The clause will mean that there is no legal ambiguity over whether new forms of alcohol are covered by the Act and need an alcohol licence to be sold.
I recognise the concerns of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. All we know about powdered alcohol is that it is alcohol in a powdered form. There is no evidence on whether it is more harmful than liquid alcohol, and we do not know whether it could be used in more harmful ways. The Government share the noble Lord’s concern that children may be attracted to this product. These are legitimate concerns. However, removing this clause from the Bill will expose an ambiguity in the law that could be exploited by those who seek to argue that these novel forms of alcohol may be sold without a licence. The Government have not sought to ban powdered alcohol because the licensing system contains safeguards to prevent the sale of alcohol to children and to protect the public from irresponsible sales of alcohol.
Powdered alcohol was authorised for sale in the USA in March 2015, although as far as the Government are aware, it is not yet on sale in the USA or elsewhere, including online. A number of states in the USA have banned powdered alcohol amid concerns about underage drinking. If powdered alcohol does come on to the market, the Government will monitor what happens in the USA and the UK, and keep our position under review. We are currently aware of only one company developing this product. It is designed to be mixed with water or a mixer such as orange juice or Coke to make a drink of the normal strength, for example, a single shot of vodka. While the licensed trade and licensing authorities are currently treating vaporised alcohol in the same way as liquid alcohol, the Government wish to ensure that there is no doubt about the legal position.
In considering this change to the definition of alcohol, the Home Office consulted key partners at two workshops held last summer. One included representatives from the Local Government Association, the Institute of Licensing, the police and PCCs, as well as licensing officers from seven licensing authorities. The second workshop included industry partners such as the British Beer and Pub Association, the Association of Convenience Stores, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers. In these workshops there was agreement that the legal position of new forms of alcohol should be put beyond doubt. The police and local authorities were keen that licensing and enforcement decisions should be clear, while the industry representatives were keen to see clarity in the law so that alcohol licences continue to operate effectively and efficiently. In conclusion, removing the clause from the Bill would have the opposite effect to the one the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, seeks.
He asked about prisons. It may be helpful to mention that the legislative change does not affect the use of alcohol in prisons, which is prohibited. He asked what consultation we have carried out with health authorities. Home Office officials have discussed powdered alcohol with the Department of Health and Public Health England. No one has raised specific concerns about the potential harm of powdered alcohol and there is no evidence to suggest that this form of alcohol is more harmful than liquid alcohol. However, we will keep this under review if the product enters the market.
Does the noble Baroness agree that the question is not whether the form of alcohol—that is, powder or liquid—is more dangerous; it is the quantity of the chemical C2H5OH that is the problem? The higher the concentration, the greater the harm, so an ordinary drink spiked with powdered alcohol will be much more harmful than the drink itself because it is a question of dose-related harms.
I cannot disagree with the noble Baroness’s comments about the powdered form of alcohol. However, this obviously depends on what one compares the powder to. Some fairly lethal drinks are available. I am thinking of things such as absinthe, which was banned for years in this country. Every form of alcohol has the potential to do harm. As the relevant product is not yet on the market in this country, we will keep the situation under review.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for her support. As noble Lords might expect, I am disappointed with the Minister’s response. Alcohol in its present form is very badly regulated in a number of areas. A Health Minister is present who knows about the major problems we experience with alcohol. We need to look constantly at the Licensing Act 2003 to try to improve the situation.
Alcohol will be presented in quite a different form from anything we have experienced previously. Make no mistake—it will come. The Home Office seems to be way behind on this all the time. There is a manufacturer of this form of alcohol in Japan, where it is available, and a Dutch producer. I believe that some has been produced in Germany as well, so it is coming on to the market. The existing Licensing Act will not be able to hinder this product’s portability. That is what has changed. You can hide it and move it anywhere, whereas beer in a bottle or glass is visible. That is the distinction and that is why this new form of alcohol is so different. When we see the difficulties in places such as prisons, and the steps we are taking to reduce violence in them and stop illicit drugs going into prisons, to say that the Government will meet what is primarily the drinks industry’s requirement to have the legal position clarified, in which it has a vested interest, is the wrong way to go.
There is a solution to this problem. My proposal would not legalise this product. We could ban it. We could also for the first time consider classifying it as a class C drug. That would frighten the drinks industry to death. We could also classify alcohol in this form under the Psychoactive Substances Act. I suggest that the Minister takes the measure away and reconsiders it in those terms.
Clause 117 agreed.
Clause 118 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 2.10 pm.
Hospitals: Unsafe Discharge
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what response they have made to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s Report of investigations into unsafe discharge from hospital, published in May.
My Lords, this very shocking report of nine deeply disturbing cases showing what happens to patients when hospital discharge goes wrong was published in May. Since then we have had a plethora of reports from the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and now, more recently, the CQC itself, which underline the wider context in which these cases cited by the health ombudsman have happened, and the increasingly desperate situation in many hospitals and in social care.
The ombudsman’s report came just over a year after Healthwatch England’s extensive Safely Home report on hospital discharges. This did not cover just nine case examples, but was the result of an extensive, in-depth inquiry led by people experiencing unsafe hospital discharge, with a particular focus on mental health and homelessness. The ombudsman’s cases all involved vulnerable, frail, elderly people, some with dementia, who were either discharged before they were clinically ready to leave hospital; were not properly assessed before discharge, with neither they nor their carers being consulted or even informed about discharge arrangements; and where no care plan was in place for how they might cope at home. Alternatively, patients were kept in hospital much longer than necessary due to poor co-ordination across services, or, in reality, no provision or support being available in the community.
Vulnerable, desperate, homeless and mentally ill people are covered in the Healthwatch inquiry. The failure to consider the full range of their needs before discharge from hospital or a care setting means for the homeless that no support housing or benefits structures are in place to enable patients to recover, leading to what the St Mungo’s charity cites as “revolving door” readmissions to hospital and huge anxiety and suffering for the individuals concerned. As regards mental healthcare, poor communication and co-ordination between different services and lack of desperately needed community support services so often resulted in patients being unnecessarily kept in hospital settings for months.
The National Audit Office report shows that overall the number of delayed hospital transfers has risen by a third in the past two years to 1.15 million, with two-thirds being a result of delays caused by the NHS and one-third caused by problems of non-availability of social care. Age UK’s estimate is that 184,000 nights are lost to the NHS on patients who cannot be cared for at home, or for whom no affordable residential care can be found, costing the NHS £820 million a year, a 70% rise in the last two years. The NAO’s comparable cost figure of care in the community for those patients is about £180 million.
Extended stays in hospitals demoralise older people, cause institutionalisation and dependency and put them at serious risk of losing mobility, muscle strength and the ability to do everyday things, such as bathing and dressing. There is also an increased risk of infection. The fact that there are almost twice as many people in hospital beds unnecessarily as a result of the NHS failing to get its act together rather than through lack of social care provision in the community is particularly striking.
Moreover, the PAC report clearly shows the huge variations and range across the country. In 2015-16, for example, there were 10 bed days lost in Northumbria and nearly 18,000 days in Lincolnshire. Many areas are getting it right under difficult and challenging circumstances. The NHS itself needs to do much, much more to get its own house in order, and that is why national leadership and action are so important. In response to this situation, the PAC’s comments are very telling. It accuses the Department of Health and NHS England of relying too easily on differing local circumstances as a catch-all excuse for not securing improvement in NHS performance. The PAC says:
“Those areas which are doing best are the ones where all the local system owns all of the problem but this practice is all too rare”.
In other words, it is not enough to wring one’s hands over the variability problem.
The Healthwatch report points to guidance aplenty having been issued over the past decade including from NICE, the Department of Health and the recent transition quality standard. However, as it says with all this,
“it is not clear why further individual initiatives will make a difference without something more fundamental changing in the system”.
The crying need for national and local leadership and system-wide ownership, action and change brings us on to the strategic and transformation plans—about which we know little real detail but are told are NHS England’s only show in town. Some 44 “footprints” are to plan for a health service focused on people living with long-term conditions in the community. The Minister has underlined his optimism about the plans, most of which are “genuinely local” and are being drawn up by “collaboration” between hospital trusts, CCGs and local authorities.
The deadline for STPs is now upon us, so can Minister tell us more about how NHS England will be evaluating, assessing and analysing the plans at national level to ensure that they meet the vision set out in the NHS forward view for integrated health and social care? Is he confident that they will focus on better care rather than on just reducing finance? He said earlier this week in response to my Question on carer support that plans,
“will include radically improved out-of-hospital care through stronger integration and improved access to primary care”.—[Official Report, 7/11/16; col. 889.]
From the STPs we know about to date this looks to be funded by cuts to acute services—such as accident and emergency and maternity services—which we know will be difficult to make and will be vigorously opposed both locally and nationally. In this regard, the King’s Fund assessment is worth repeating, namely that STPs,
“will not be credible unless they demonstrate how money and staff”,
for services outside hospital will be found. Does the Minister acknowledge this? Are the Government ensuring that STP outcomes are focused on long-term sustainability rather than on short-term savings and cuts? How are the 44 footprints to be made into a coherent national forward journey?
On social care funding, the latest CQC report must surely have set alarm bells ringing right across government. Drawing on 20,000 inspections of hospitals, care homes, A&Es and mental health services, the CCQ tipping-point warning on the sustainability of adult social care is surely a game changer for the Government. The chief executive David Behan was reported as saying he was more worried than at any time in his 40-year career about council care for the elderly—200,000 more people than five years ago are being denied everyday help with basic tasks of washing and dressing and the number of care home beds is continuing to fall, with council-funded places in care homes falling by 26%. In A&E, there were 1 million more visits than five years ago, with half a million more emergency hospital admissions of people aged over 65.
The CQC is reinforcing what stakeholders, staff, campaigners, social care voluntary organisations, think tanks and patient organisations have been telling the Government at every opportunity, particularly during the passage of the Care Act, ahead of every government financial statement and Budget, and ever since they postponed the Dilnot social care funding proposals until 2019. Yesterday we saw the joint letter to the Chancellor from the Nuffield Trust, the Health Foundation and the King’s Fund pleading for urgent action in the Autumn Statement. Surely the Government must finally acknowledge the extent and the scale of the crisis in social care funding and take the action that is needed now.
We are nearly into 2017, less than two years to go until the promised action on Dilnot agreed under the Care Act is due to commence. I remind the Minister that nearly £6 billion of Government funding was committed to its implementation, the substantial part of which has never been spent on social care. Can the Minister reassure the House that the Government are not trying quietly to abandon Dilnot and most of the rest of the provisions of the Care Act that have ongoing financial costs?
I conclude with raising again the Carers UK Pressure Points report which echoed the ombudsman’s finding that growing demand on the NHS is forcing people to be discharged from hospital too early, often without proper support at home and without proper consultation or notice given to their carers. As a carer myself, and someone who speaks to a lot of other carers as a trustee of our local carer support group, the discharge process can often be the most traumatic experience you face, next to the shock of almost overnight becoming a carer of a person with long-term needs and all the uncertainty and anxiety of how you are going to cope with the huge change in your life and of course, in the person you care for. The Government’s long-awaited updated national carer strategy must surely tackle this crucial issue of improved communications between hospitals and carers head on so that carers are fully involved and get the vital support they need. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure the House that this will be so.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for bringing this most worrying matter before your Lordships today. The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report and its follow-up should be acted on by everyone responsible for the NHS and, by Members of Parliament who are responsible for helping their constituents, as well as by voluntary organisations and the public. Unsafe discharge from hospital can happen throughout the country. Pressure on most hospitals throughout the country has reached a tipping point. Better communication throughout the NHS is absolutely vital.
I want to bring to your Lordships’ attention the case of Mrs F, one of the cases illustrated in the report:
“A woman in her 80s was discharged from hospital to an empty house, in a confused state with a catheter still inserted”.
She had been,
“admitted to hospital with a urinary infection. She was seen by a consultant who decided she should stay in hospital for three days so that the infection could be treated and staff could monitor her. Despite this, and for reasons that are unclear, Mrs F was discharged later the same day to an empty home and in a confused state. She had been given no medication and still had a catheter inserted”.
“contacted the ward sister at the hospital who said that Mrs F should not have been discharged”.
The report concluded that:
“It was wrong to discharge Mrs F against the consultant’s instructions. There was nothing in Mrs F’s medical notes to explain why the consultant’s instructions had been changed or who had changed them. This went against recognised standards about record keeping. The hospital accepted that Mrs F’s discharge was inappropriate, and that there was no documentation about the discharge or who arranged or authorised it. However, it failed to get to the bottom of what had happened”.
Is this not a clear example of a cover-up? I wonder how many such cases across the country never come to the notice of the ombudsman.
I must mention the unsafe discharge from hospital of people apart from the elderly. A baby died after being sent home from hospital with paracetamol when he had meningitis. His mother said:
“To lose your child to an illness that is both preventable and treatable is a tragedy. By sharing our story we hope to save lives in the future as people become more aware of the symptoms and of the impact this horrible disease can have”.
Another baby was sent home from a hospital department which had a warning poster about meningitis but the mother was told the baby had gastroenteritis. A schoolgirl of 16 was sent home from A&E after being told she had a migraine. She later returned to hospital with a rash but died. Waiting for a rash can be fatal. I wonder how many people have died in the past year from meningitis and sepsis due to misdiagnosis.
I have a friend whose son became mentally ill at the age of 18. He went berserk one afternoon, brandishing an air gun. As the situation was out of control, the police were called. They took him to Northallerton, where it was realised that he was seriously mentally ill. He was admitted to the local hospital’s one ward for mentally ill patients and was later transferred to a more secure ward at Middlesbrough, where he remained for six months. The consultant then told his parents that he could be discharged home. They said that they would not be able to cope, and they feared for his safety and that of the community. He was then sent to the first hospital, where the consultant told the parents that it would have been a disaster if he had been sent straight home. How many unsafe discharges of mentally ill patients will there be when the pressure on beds becomes insurmountable, with no slack in the system?
With the elderly population increasing and with complex conditions, the local population in North Yorkshire are dismayed at the closure of the Lambert Memorial Hospital in Thirsk. This hospital has taken the pressure off the local district hospital when people need 24-hour care but not acute surgery. Too much pressure on hospitals means too many unsafe discharges.
I am pleased to see that Healthwatch England has been involved in the safe discharge of patients. In 2014-15 it conducted its “safely home” inquiry, highlighting the impact on patients and their families when discharge goes wrong and identifying good practice where things go right. It also welcomed the publication of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report and its role in highlighting the continued importance of ensuring that discharge is undertaken safely, effectively and respectfully.
The purpose of Healthwatch England and the 152 local Healthwatch organisations is to understand the needs, experiences and concerns of those who use health and social care services, and they were granted the statutory powers to speak out on their behalf. Healthwatch needs to stand up and be counted by helping uncover cover-ups, supporting patients and promoting good practice in both NHS and social care. The combination of services is important.
The Royal College of Nursing stresses the vital contribution of the community nursing workforce in relieving pressure on the system and delivering care in the community. The RCN is clear that any poor care is unacceptable and that action must be taken where breaches of the Nursing and Midwifery Council code occur. It is important—so that solutions can be found—that these cases are viewed within the wider context of the pressures facing the health and care systems.
I am pleased that the BMA supports the conclusions of the ombudsman’s report and welcomes the committee’s follow-up inquiry. It states that it is of paramount importance for patients, as well as their families and carers, that they are discharged from hospital in a safe, appropriate and timely manner that is co-ordinated and centred on their needs. There are extra needs for people with dementia and their carers. I hope that the Government, too, will do their very best to make the discharge of patients safer and better. This is not only a local matter; it is a matter of national concern.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, on submitting the same Question for Short Debate as the one that I submitted myself, but clearly she was in front of me in the queue.
This is a very important topic, impacting, as it does, both on the health of individual patients and their families and on the sustainability of the health and social care services. As usual, we see in the PHSO report evidence that we will never achieve sustainability in the health service until we address the shortfalls in budgets and provision in the social care service. Only recently we heard about more social care providers handing back local authority contracts because they are unable to make a reasonable profit while providing an adequate standard of care. One of my colleagues, who is a local councillor, told me that, in fulfilling its statutory duties relating to social care, her council now has to spend 33%—and rising—of its budget and that, if this carries on, the council will soon run out of money.
Care providers are not fat cats who do not think that they are making enough money; on the whole they are caring companies which have reluctantly had to admit that they cannot go on as they have recently been forced to do and deliver the standard of care they want to give. We have also had media stories about the fact that those who are self-funding in care homes are paying a premium of up to £400 per week to subsidise the home’s budget and compensate for the shortfall in local authority payments for publicly funded patients in the setting. From every point of view, this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs, which threatens to get worse, and it backs up the call by my right honourable friend Norman Lamb MP for an independent or cross-party commission on how the health and care systems can be sustainably funded.
I turn to the detail of the report. When I asked an Oral Question about this on 15 June, the Minister’s first Answer was to the effect that the sustainability and transformation plans would integrate health and social care, fill the black hole in funding and solve all our problems. So my first question to him today is to ask him to follow up on that Answer. We have heard in the news recently that STP boards must delay making their draft plans public for two weeks because of the concerns of some Conservative MPs that the plans may involve controversial hospital closures. Is that the case?
That is not the only concern I have heard. I am told that the development of the plans has been very top down and has been led by the acute hospitals, despite the fact that one of their main purposes is to plan how patients can be treated in primary and community care rather than in expensive hospitals. I have also heard that local authorities and community groups have not been involved in developing the plans but have been told that they can comment after the plans are complete. Once the ink is dry on the paper, people can do no more than tweak the plans. Given that these plans need to fundamentally reform the way that care is delivered, and given that the most successful change is bottom up, this is no way to go about it. It will produce the “not invented here” syndrome. I have found that health and care professionals will engage enthusiastically with change that they know will work because they have recommended it, but not when change is imposed on them. Every manager knows that the best changes, and those that are easiest to implement, come from the staff suggestion box.
Also, I have heard that “sustainability”, not “transformation”, has become the over-riding objective. In other words, boards have been told that the books must be balanced, and this has resulted in outrageously unrealistic plans. The Government were wise to call these plans “sustainability and transformation” because, through transforming how services are delivered, we might achieve savings. However, it cannot be the other way round. I also heard a health economist make the very valid point last week that in mental health there has been a transformation from in-patient care to care in the community, but this has taken 20 years. The point he was making was that the timescale for the Government’s STPs is quite unrealistic.
If ever there was a demonstration that this process needs to be carried out properly, it is to be found in the PHSO report on unsafe discharge. The point that I made in my supplementary Oral Question in June, quoting examples from the report, was that there are problems on both sides of the discharge cliff edge: problems in the hospital and problems with the care to which the patient should be discharged. The Minister answered:
“My Lords, there are millions of interactions between patients and consultants and doctors every day of the year, and there will be some mistakes. We cannot draw conclusions from one or two desperate situations. In so far as they reveal systemic problems, it is valid to draw attention to individual cases of this kind, and there are some systemic issues lying behind the PHSO's report. In particular, it states:
‘We are aware that structural and systemic barriers to effective discharge planning are long standing and cannot be fixed overnight. …health and social care ... have historically operated in silos’”.—[Official Report, 15/6/16; col. 1216.]
I agree with the Minister that there are millions of satisfactory—nay, exemplary—interactions every day, but the report quoted specific examples only where the ombudsman felt that they did demonstrate systemic issues. That was made very clear in the report. But common sense tells us that mistakes are more liable to be made when people are under great pressure. The Minister also acknowledged that these historic barriers to safe discharge cannot be fixed overnight. So why are the STPs expected to fix them in the health service equivalent of overnight, which is in three or four years?
No doctor or nurse wishes to discharge a patient into unsafe circumstances, but mistakes will be made when the pressure on the service is so great and there is such a shortage of hospital beds, according to the briefing from the BMA. In its submission to the Public Accounts Committee inquiry on this very same subject, the Royal College of Physicians revealed that 40% of advertised consultant vacancies remain unfilled, mostly due to the lack of suitably qualified candidates. At the same time, the Government are telling us that they do not want to bring in doctors from abroad. This is quite unrealistic in the timescale quoted. The RCP says that the,
“staffing crisis is impacting on physicians’ ability to swiftly assess patients… to tailor their care plans and to work across disciplines to achieve safe and timely transfers of care”.
The RCP also emphasises that more needs to be done to prevent unnecessary admissions, and quotes examples where early access to multidisciplinary assessment led to a reduction of up to 24% in hospital admissions. Patients were given care in more appropriate settings and pressure on hospitals was reduced. That is what we should be seeing across the board.
It also makes the point that better integration between hospital and community settings is fundamental in preventing patient readmission to hospital. That was one of the regrettable consequences of unsafe discharge, according to the report. To be fair, this integration is one of the major objectives of the STPs. Why, therefore, in too many cases, is one partner producing the plan and then showing it to the other for comment?
The Royal College of Nursing, in its briefing for this debate, accepts that poor care is unacceptable, and agrees with many of the findings of the report. It mentions the problems with recruiting and retaining nurses in the NHS and shows a link between shortages and poor patient experience. Can the Minister tell us what impact the Government expect the change in funding for student nurses to have on this situation and what effect this will have on the availability of nursing homes?
The RCN also points out that discharge targets mean little if the resources in social care are not there to meet them. What do the Government plan to do about this? They must surely accept that the small precept for social care which has been allowed to local councils to cover the cost of the increase in the national minimum wage will not do so—and by the way, I refuse to call it the national living wage because no one could live on it. We also know that in the areas where most is needed for social care, because of the predominance of publicly funded patients, the ability to raise extra cash from the precept is the lowest. This is a topsy-turvy policy that the Government are labelling a legitimate solution to the problem.
I ask the Minister what plans the Government have to address the shortfall in funding for social care and the shortage of doctors and nurses, the main causes of unsafe discharge? There are problems with communications and poor interoperability of IT systems, but—although they should be addressed—they are not the great big elephant in the room. We all know what that is. When will the Government address it and stop burying their head in the sand? Even Simon Stevens and a Select Committee in another place have questioned the Government’s claim that they have given the NHS all it asked for. They have not, and the five-year forward view remains an aspiration and not a plan.
Without a properly funded plan, the crisis in health and social care, of which unsafe discharge is very sad evidence, will continue as demand continues to rise. Instead of picking fights with junior doctors and community pharmacists, the Secretary of State would be better advised to tackle this with his usual energy. If he did so, his name would go down in history as the best Secretary of State for Health we have ever had. I await that day with bated breath.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, for initiating this debate on a hugely important issue. I hope the noble Baronesses, Lady Wheeler and Lady Walmsley, will not think I am being churlish when I say that we covered a very wide range of issues today and at times strayed somewhat beyond the health ombudsman’s report, which is the substance of this debate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, raised the issue of homelessness. That illustrates the complexity of the discharge process. I have seen a homeless person at UCLH in London who has nowhere to go. The issue is finding somewhere for that person to go—otherwise, as the noble Baroness said, he ends up back under the arches, then back in A&E, and the whole revolving door syndrome goes on. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mentioned the situation with someone who is mentally ill. Such discharges are very complex, so we should be careful not to oversimplify how difficult some of them are.
There has been a lot of talk in this debate about STPs. I will come to them, but I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that they are bottom up and are done locally. Of course, the acute hospital is going to have a major impact on the local STP: it would be strange if it did not. Some STPs, however, are run by the local authority and others by the chief executive of the local acute trust. That varies around the country, depending on the local leadership. They are not top down: these are bottom-up organisations, and they are increasingly in the public domain for discussion locally. One of the issues is that the NHS and the care system are so complex and so difficult that exceptional leadership is required to get lots of people together in the same room and come up with a plan that can be executed. Somehow, we have to move to a system in which you do not have to be exceptional to achieve results, in which average people can make progress. It is very difficult.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, mentioned Northumbria, where there is good local leadership that has worked in a consensual way with other partners in the system for many years. That way, you can get progress. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said it took 20 years to make the changes in mental health from the old, big, acute asylums to much greater community provision. It does take time, and you have to put the resource into the community before you can take it out of the acute sector. She talked about the difference between transformation and sustainability. Transformation means change, and change is difficult. It means people changing the way they have delivered care for many years. It does mean closing some acute activities in order to put resources into the community—there is no getting away from that. The Five Year Forward View was a view, not a plan. The STPs are, in a sense, transforming the view into a plan. We should not be surprised if there are some difficult messages in that. If we run away from those difficult messages, we will not put the Five Year Forward View into practice. I think everyone in this House feels that at least the direction of travel in the Five Year Forward View is the right one.
I do not want to sound in any way complacent because, as we heard in the story of Mrs F, when these discharge processes go wrong they are catastrophic for the individual concerned and their families. To put it in context, however, reported incidents of discharges going wrong account for less than 0.1% of the 15 million discharges made every year from hospital. Of that 0.1%, 96% are categorised as “no harm” or “low harm”. It is important to have that context. In fact, the PHSO makes it clear that the cases set out in its report should not be considered as representative of practices across the NHS and social care. However, it says:
“We are aware that structural and systemic barriers to effective discharge planning are long standing … these include the need for better integration and joint working of health and social care services, which have historically operated in silos”.
That was also acknowledged by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which said that,
“discharge failures identified by the PHSO report are not isolated incidents but rather examples of problems”,
experienced “more widely”.
It, too, draws attention to the lack of integration between health and social care. It is therefore right that in this debate we have focused largely on these structural problems, which are not just between health and social care but within the health service itself.
The experience of these patients supports the strong case that this Government have made—and indeed the past Government—for closer working between health and social care and between different organisations and the NHS. We have to resist resorting to yet another major structural change in the NHS. Just as this last lot is settling down, there is a temptation to say that we should radically look at the whole structure of health and social care again, in which case the whole thing will be pushed up in the air for another few years. We therefore need to be careful before we resort to that.
I will repeat the figures that were given by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler. In August of this year about 60% of delays were attributable to the NHS—so it is not just the interface between the NHS and social care—33% to social care, and the remaining 10% or so to both social care and healthcare.
In December, 44 health and care systems across England were asked to come together to create their own local blueprints, called sustainability and transformation plans. STPs are designed precisely to tackle the barriers to improved patient care—the silos that were mentioned—by better alignment across organisations. This could have been done on a statutory basis, but we would have been here discussing that until kingdom come. The STPs have evolved; they are local and not top-down. They were not put out there by Jeremy Hunt: this has been done by the NHS and by social care on a local basis.
To some extent this builds on the Government’s £5.3 billion better care fund and upon the vanguard schemes—the various models of care that were described in the NHS Five Year Forward View. This is a logical evolution of those two developments. If I had more time, I could give examples of a number of the new care models in the NHS Five Year Forward View that are getting some considerable traction.
We are clear that in some areas, rising delayed transfers of care are placing considerable financial and operational strain on the NHS. However, we are equally clear that delays in themselves can prove particularly dangerous to older patients. There is a growing body of evidence on the harms associated with long hospital stays for older people. A pretty staggering statistic is that 10 days lying in a hospital bed can lead to the equivalent of 10 years of ageing in the muscles of people over 80. Therefore, delayed discharges are not fundamentally about saving money, although of course they would save money. They are about how we provide better care for vulnerable, usually elderly people with comorbidities.
NHS England and NHS Improvement have taken action to establish a number of work streams across community services and acute hospitals, because that is often where the delays occur. This will identify and deliver a series of interventions to help deliver system-wide transformation of community services, supporting timely discharge from hospital.
The decision to discharge remains a clinical one, but ensuring all discharges are safe and timely requires a multidisciplinary effort from clinical and nursing staff, allied health professionals, and community and social care workers. The imperative to discharge as quickly as possible must be balanced against the needs of each patient. I acknowledge fully that when a hospital is full and there are ambulances queueing outside in the car park to get people to A&E, the pressure to discharge patients is huge. We can pick out examples where it has gone wrong, but if you put yourself in the place of the nurse on the ward, who is told, “We’ve got to find three beds by 8 o’clock because we’ve got people in A&E who are about to breach the four-hour target”, you can understand the pressure there sometimes is in hospitals to make discharges earlier than they should be.
When the NHS was founded in 1948, 48% of people died before they reached the age of 65. In 2016, this figure is only 12%, and the fastest-growing age group is the over 85s, for whom the discharge process is inevitably the most difficult. Some 80% of this group will suffer from two or more chronic conditions, which adds to the complexity in discharging patients today.
I want to dwell on two issues related to safe discharge. First, the whole thrust of the seven-day NHS is to ensure that urgent and emergency care patients have access to the same level of consultant assessment and review, diagnostic tests and consultant-led interventions, whatever the day of the week. The problems of discharge are the same on a Saturday or Sunday as they are on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Other work includes the new discharge planning guidelines published by NICE, which cover transitions between care settings for adults with social care needs.
There is absolutely no doubt that the structural difficulties of the NHS are quite profound and exceptional people are required to overcome those barriers. We are bound to see considerable variability in some of the STP plans when they are published over the next couple of weeks. However, we can also improve operational issues within hospitals: making sure that the drugs and transport are ready; that there are multi-disciplinary teams, including social workers as well as care workers; and that everyone who comes into hospital gets an estimated date of discharge, so that everything can be brought together around that discharge process.
I end by paying tribute to NHS staff, who are working under huge pressure and with people with complex conditions. I think we all recognise that the structure of the NHS means that things are not as easy for them as they might be.
I asked the Minister about the national carers strategy. Could he please write to me on that?
I will certainly do that. I should just say that the theme that comes out of the carers strategy is better communication. When half of carers say that they feel that a hospital admission could have been avoided or that the discharge could have been easier if only there had been better communication, that is clearly a critical area.
Policing and Crime Bill
Committee (4th Day) (Continued)
Relevant documents: 3rd and 4th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee and 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
Clause 119: Summary reviews of premises licences: review of interim steps
209A: Clause 119, page 134, line 34, at end insert—
“and for this purpose the conditions of the licence are modified if any of them is altered or omitted or any new condition is added.”
My Lords, these amendments relate to alcohol licensing. In particular, they introduce two new provisions into the Bill which reform the late-night levy and place cumulative impact policies on a statutory footing.
Amendments 209D and 214D relate to the late night levy, which was introduced in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 and under which licensing authorities are able to charge a levy to those who are licensed to sell alcohol late at night in their areas, as a means of raising a contribution towards the costs of policing the late-night economy. The licensed trade plays an important part in our economy, and the Government’s Modern Crime Prevention Strategy makes it clear that we want to create a night-time economy that people may enjoy safely, without the fear of becoming a victim of crime; that in turn will help businesses to thrive. It is right that businesses which benefit from the late-night economy should pay towards its management when it is creating an additional burden on policing in that area. However, to date, only seven licensing authorities have implemented a late-night levy; that is fewer than anticipated when the levy was introduced in 2012.
Licensing authorities, the police and the licensed trade feel that the levy in its current form is inflexible. Currently, licensing authorities must apply the levy to the whole licensing authority area, and businesses which are not in night-time economy areas feel they are being unfairly charged. These amendments will allow licensing authorities to specify the geographical area, or several separate areas, where they will charge a levy because the night-time economy places a burden on policing, and they will be able to decide whether to include premises licensed to sell late-night refreshment in their levy. The provision of late-night refreshment is defined in the Licensing Act 2003 as hot food and drink sold to the public between 11 pm and 5 am. Such premises are often linked to alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder; for example, fast-food shops are often premises at which late-night drinkers congregate.
PCCs have told us that they would like a formal role in relation to the levy, and we think this is appropriate as 70% of the revenue raised must go to them. The amendment will allow a PCC to request that a licensing authority formally propose a levy, thereby triggering a consultation on whether to implement one in its area. It will need to set out its reasons for doing so with reference to the cost of policing incurred as a result of the night-time economy.
Finally, Amendment 214D requires licensing authorities to publish information about how the revenue raised from the levy is spent. Some licensing authorities do this already, but one of the key concerns of the licensed trade is that there is a lack of transparency about this.
Amendment 209C fulfils the Government’s commitment in the Modern Crime Prevention Strategy to put cumulative impact policies, or CIPs, on a statutory footing. CIPs help licensing authorities to limit the number or type of licence applications granted in areas where the number of licensed premises is causing problems. Such problems typically include crime and disorder or public nuisance caused by large numbers of drinkers being concentrated in one area. The CIP scheme is set out in the guidance issued under Section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003, and there are around 215 in place in England and Wales. However, they have no statutory basis and not all licensing authorities are making effective or consistent use of them. The licensed trade also has concerns about the transparency of the process for putting a CIP in place and the quality of evidence used as the basis for some. Putting CIPs on a statutory footing will provide greater clarity and legal certainty about their use.
These provisions allow a licensing authority to publish a cumulative impact assessment if it considers that the number of licensed premises in an area is such that existing or emerging problems mean that granting further licences would be inconsistent with its duty to promote the licensing objectives. These objectives are the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm. To publish a cumulative impact assessment, the licensing authority must publish the evidence for its opinion and consult the same list of persons as when developing its statement of licensing policy. A licensing authority will be required to consider, at least every three years, whether it remains of the opinion set out in the cumulative impact assessment and, if so, publish updated supporting evidence as to why this is the case.
Publication of a cumulative impact assessment will not automatically prevent the authority granting new licences or variations of licences in the area in question. As with all applications under the 2003 Act, anyone wishing to challenge an application will need to make a relevant representation on the likely effect on the promotion of at least one of the four licensing objectives. If no representations are made and the application is made lawfully, the licensing authority must grant the licence.
Amendments 209A and 209B make technical refinements to the provisions in Clauses 119 and 120 relating to summary reviews and personal licences. I apologise for taking a little time to explain these new provisions but I hope the Committee will agree that they are valuable contributions to the strengthening of the alcohol licensing framework. We remain open to considering other proposals with a similar objective and, in this regard, look forward to the report of the Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003 when it is published next spring. I assure noble Lords that there is no intention of pre-emption: these reforms were announced in the Government’s Modern Crime Prevention Strategy, which was published in March, some two months before the Select Committee was established. The Government are keen to take the opportunity afforded by this Bill to legislate on these matters so that they can be enacted as soon as possible. I also assure noble Lords that when considering the implementation of the alcohol-related measures in the Bill, we will take into consideration the request that the cumulative impact and late-night levy provisions are not implemented until after the Select Committee has reported next March. I emphasise that we will look very carefully at the findings of the committee before coming to any final conclusions. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister to her place and thank her for the manner in which she introduced the amendments. I rise to raise the concerns of the committee to which my noble friend referred—the ad hoc post-legislative scrutiny committee on the Licensing Act 2003.
I am still relatively new to your Lordships’ House and finding my way around its rules and procedures, and my question is simple: is it normal procedure for the House to constitute, in this case, an ad hoc post-legislative scrutiny committee of 12 very keen noble Lords for an Act passed over 12 years ago? They are performing their duty with great vigour and energy, and—apart from me—with a notable degree of expertise, which I am benefiting from hugely. I also place on the record how well served we are by the clerk and his team in our work in this regard.
Bearing in mind that the committee was constituted only in June, we began our work then with a view to conducting post-legislative scrutiny of the 2003 Act and to reporting within quite a challenging timeframe of some nine months. For clarification, why have the Government, as the Executive, undertaken a separate exercise of their own at this stage to review in the Bill the operation of some items with a view to revising them—in this case, the alcohol-related provisions of the 2003 Act? It is clearly a source of some concern to its members that the ad hoc committee has not had a chance to hear all the evidence, or to reach any conclusions on the recommendations that it would wish to report to the House in due course in March.
I do not intend to take up time this afternoon looking at the merits of the arguments that the Minister has rehearsed but I would like to ask a question on the consultation, as a number of concerns have been raised about Home Office consultations and the evidence that we have heard. Can the Minister explain how wide the consultation has been on the provisions in this little group of amendments and how many responses have been received? Is it possible for the House, and indeed the committee, to have access to those responses? At this stage, I would like to focus more on the procedures and processes being followed rather than the merits, with which we are occupying ourselves on a weekly basis between now and the end of March.
I would like to go further than the Minister has said in the letter that I received, and which was brought to the attention of the committee at 9 am today. In my noble friend’s words, the Government will take into consideration the recommendations and conclusions of the committee in due course, and they and the Home Office will consider carefully what additional changes, if any, should be made to the Act and through connected legislation. Perhaps I may press the Minister this afternoon. I would like to obtain a commitment from my noble friend not to implement any of what will become the Policing and Crime Act before the committee has reported to the House—and therefore not before the end of March. That commitment would be welcome and it would be a matter for the House to take note of. I am sure it is one on which the Government would wish to be held accountable.
I repeat that we are in the middle of what we take to be very important work. An important task has been set for us by the House to scrutinise the provisions of the 2003 Act. We are still receiving evidence and have not yet reached a position on which we will form a view. This is also the first occasion I have sat on such a committee, let alone had the honour and privilege to chair one, so I would like to be clear whether this is the normal procedure for a Government to follow in these circumstances.
I also alert the Government to the fact that while we do not wish to quote any of the evidence—it is there as a matter of record on the committee’s website—it is true that some of the evidence we have received, both written and oral, conflicts with the position that the Government have set out to the Committee this afternoon. I would certainly welcome a concession from the Minister that it would be sensible to wait until such time as the committee has had the chance to hear and consider all the oral and written evidence received, and that we will be able in due course to reach our conclusions and recommendations—and that only then will the Government, if necessary, proceed to implement this policy. A commitment from the Minister that the Government will keep an open mind and revise the policy as set out in these amendments would be most welcome.
I rise to support the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and to put on record how excellently she is chairing this committee. I am possibly one of the “keen” members of this body, as she put it to the Committee. We are reviewing the Licensing Act and looking at a whole range of issues; clearly, it is not just the issues in this set of amendments. We are looking at how the whole Act has operated in the 11 or 12 years since it was brought in. Members of this House will remember the high hopes that people had of this Act and the things that were said about it. It is therefore obviously timely that the Act should be reviewed, which is what the members of the committee are presently engaged in.
As the noble Baroness said, the committee has taken a lot of evidence, written and oral, covering among other things the slow introduction of late-night levies, which the Minister mentioned, and the effect of cumulative impact assessment. I say to the Minister that not much of the evidence we have presently accumulated in fact supports what the Government are putting forward in these amendments. I find it rather unsettling that we are engaged in this exercise on behalf of the House of Lords and then the Government suddenly come forward with amendments which cut across the review. It has rather unsettled the committee because it introduces elements that we did not realise were ongoing.
The Minister said that there was evidence supporting these changes. I do not want to go into detail at this stage or to quote selectively, which could be misleading at this stage and could give a partial view of the issues at stake. It is right that the committee should be allowed to conclude its review, come to a considered decision and present its report and proposals for change—if any—to the Government. All that should happen before any of these changes are brought forward. I listened with great care to what the Minister said and appreciate that she said that these changes would not be brought in before we made our recommendations. However, I hope that this is not just the Government going through the motions of letting the committee do its work and then coming forward with the amendments that they have set their heart on anyway. I hope that the Government will look carefully at what we propose—perhaps even to the extent of modifying their approach if the evidence justifies it.
The evidence in these cases should be paramount. It might well suggest that these amendments will not achieve their objective. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that that may well be the case. It might suggest that, despite the Government’s impatience to get on with these matters, what they are doing may not be as effective as some other way of proceeding. That surely is the job we have been asked to do—and which I hope we will in fact carry out. So my hope is that our review will help the Government in the longer term. That is what we are trying to do. In a way, by coming forward with these amendments the Government are pre-empting our efforts to get a good outcome from the review of the Act. That is why I seriously hope that the Government will not just stay these amendments but listen carefully to what the review comes forward with, before deciding how to move forward.
My Lords, I, too, back the words of our able chair on this Select Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I support what she has said and I note from the letter which we, as members of the committee, received only at 9 am today that the Leader of the House said:
“I am, however, pleased to hear that members of the committee are likely to be bringing their live insights into the policy to bear when the amendments are considered”—
so I would hate to let her down. I would therefore like to address in particular the issue of the late-night levy, which, as the Minister said, was introduced in 2011 and has had only seven local authorities take it up—seven, out of all the possibilities. There must be a reason for that. Of all of those, I shall examine Cheltenham, where the council withdrew the late-night levy. It did so because it raised less than 39% of the projected first-year income of £199,000.
I fully support the arguments about not going into the detail, but this is important because of the significance of the 70:30 split: the police receive 70% of income raised without any level of accountability and the licensing authority gets 30%. Already, most licensing authorities have said that it is too expensive for them to go to the bother of raising this money when they receive only 30% of the income, and that it does not cover their costs. Yet nowhere in these amendments can I see anything that deals with the issue of the 70:30 split. There are many other arguments surrounding the late-night levy, but the 70:30 split is a central one to which I should like the Minister to respond. If the Government do not, I think that committee members will believe that there are flaws in the current approach.
I completely appreciate—again, as was in the letter that we received only at 9 am today—that some of these policies were laid out by the Government in previous publications such as the Modern Crime Prevention Strategy—but it still begs the question of why these specific amendments were tabled as recently as September. That was after this committee was set up.
I have an interest that I have to declare every time that I speak in this committee. As the holder of a temporary event notice every summer and winter for a school fair, I am a user of this system. I therefore know in some detail just how confused local authorities already are by the multitude of changes that have been made to this Act. We are very much in favour of one change, on live music, that was introduced by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones. However, I note that although this was introduced some time ago, the local authority with which I deal is still asking me out-of-date questions about my temporary event notice regarding this area.
One overwhelming factor on which this committee has heard from a lot of witnesses is that there are too many changes and that local authorities do not understand these changes sufficiently rapidly. Again, that begs the question: why change? Why introduce these amendments with assurances that you will change things back if the committee concludes that they do not work? Without pre-empting the decision of our committee, I am fairly sure that we shall conclude that they do not work on the 70:30 split that I talked about earlier.
This is my central question. I accept that the Government have published papers on this prior to the setting up of this ad hoc committee. However, they then took a decision to publish the amendments in September. Why, given that this committee is meeting? Secondly, why do they not deal with the 70:30 split? From what I can work out from the evidence that has come to us, that is the reason that most local authorities or licensing authorities see no need to take this up and see no bang for their buck if they do.
My Lords, I had assumed when I saw these amendments that there must be quite a degree of urgency to the matter, given that they were being introduced at quite a late stage in the Bill. I had not appreciated that the House had set up a Select Committee to look at the issue. I can well understand that a lot of points will have been raised. I remember the debates about the 70:30 split. I remember debates about whether that was the correct split: whether it should be 50:50 between the police and the local authority or indeed 70:30 in favour of the local authority. I am pretty certain that I moved some of those amendments.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, is being mild in her request to the Government not to implement these changes before the committee reports. Any amendments must pre-empt the committee’s decisions. Given the degree of confusion to which my noble friend referred and which I well accept, to have further changes to the regime on the statute book but not commenced cannot make the matter any easier for any of those involved. The proper approach would be for the Government not at this stage to proceed with the amendments unless there is a degree of considerable urgency—and I have not picked up that that is the case.
My Lords, briefly, I am also one of the members of the Select Committee under the great guidance and wisdom of our chairman. I share the views that have been expressed and I shall not repeat them. Why was this particular area selected from the document on modernising the police? Why have a host of other amendments not been tabled to pick up the other recommendations that the police want to see implemented? There is almost enough here for a package rather than picking out individual bits. Why were other recommendations not acted on?
The issue of the cumulative impact assessments was one that we pursued when the matter was discussed in the Commons. It is for the Government to say why they brought the amendments forward now. But, unless I am misreading the position, at least some of these amendments have some support. Unless I have misread the briefing from the Local Government Association, it supports Amendment 209C, which seeks to ensure that licensing authorities give regard to cumulative impact assessments, and Amendment 209D on late-night levy requirements.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. First, to answer my noble friend Lady McIntosh on whether there was any public consultation, in the summer of 2015 the Home Office held workshops with key partners. One workshop included the Local Government Association, the Institute of Licensing, licensing officers from several local authorities and representatives of the national policing lead on alcohol and the PCC lead on alcohol. The second workshop included industry partners such as the British Beer and Pub Association, the Association of Convenience Stores, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association and the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers. A survey was sent to all licensing authorities. The Home Office received 32 responses, including one from the PCC working group on alcohol. There is no trade body that represents late-night refreshment providers.
We have heard today from many members of the committee. All I can do is reiterate what I said in my speech: we shall of course look carefully at the findings of the committee before coming to any final conclusions and before implementing the provisions. We will wait for the Select Committee’s report next March. As I said, these reforms were announced in the Government’s Modern Crime Prevention Strategy that was published this March, some two months before the Select Committee was established. The Government are keen to take the opportunity afforded by the Bill to legislate on these matters so that they can be enacted as soon as possible. But that does not change the fact that we shall wait for the findings of the Select Committee.
The 70:30 split was mentioned. This can be amended by secondary legislation, so there is no need to make provision in the Bill. As I have said, we will consider any recommendation the Select Committee may make on this issue.
The Government believe it is right to proceed with these amendments now, as alcohol provisions were included in the Bill on its introduction to the Commons in February—so this is an appropriate vehicle to legislate on the new measures. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, the Opposition tabled amendments on cumulative impact policies in the Commons and these government amendments respond, in part, to those Commons amendments.
I am most grateful to the Minister for her reply, but can I just press her on the semantics? Could she give the House and the committee a commitment that the Government will look at our recommendations and consider revising the wording of the amendments that she has put before the Committee today if they conflict with the recommendations and conclusions that the committee reaches?
I cannot go further than I already have in saying that we will of course look very carefully at the findings of the committee before coming to any final conclusions. That is as far as I can go. Everything else is rather hypothetical at the moment.
My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness can assist this Committee with the timing. I imagine that the Select Committee will probably be required to report in February, but this Bill is likely to have concluded its passage before then. As a result, I am unclear how recommendations from the committee can affect the content of the Bill, but she may have information about the relative timings that could help this Committee.
We will not pre-empt what the committee is going to say, so we have to wait until we hear from it.
The Minister has said we cannot deal in hypotheticals, and yet we are about to accept some amendments which may well, in the light of the conclusions of our committee, be hypothetical. It seems to me that the most sensible solution is to not currently have amendments in this area, because those very amendments may be hypothetical.
I think I explained that the reason we proceeded with the amendments was because the alcohol provisions were included in the Bill on the Commons introduction in February, so this is an appropriate vehicle to legislate on the new measures. That is why we have brought them forward now. This was discussed in the Commons, and these government amendments respond, in part, to the ones that were tabled in the Commons.
Can my noble friend confirm that these amendments were not discussed in the Commons? I do not believe that their content was discussed. Just for the sake of greater clarity, all we are asking is that these amendments be stayed until such time as we have concluded our report. In the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, we are trying to help the Government. We want to have good laws and legislation that works, but clearly, at the moment, late night levies appear not to be working.
We want good legislation as well of course and, as I think I said, we will look carefully at the findings of the committee before coming to any final conclusions. I think that is really as far as I can go.
Amendment 209A agreed.
Clause 119, as amended, agreed.
Clause 120: Personal licences: licensing authority powers in relation to convictions
209B: Clause 120, page 136, leave out lines 23 to 29
Amendment 209B agreed.
Clause 120, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 121 and 122 agreed.
Amendments 209C and 209D
209C: After Clause 122, insert the following new Clause—
“Cumulative impact assessments
(1) The Licensing Act 2003 is amended as follows.(2) In section 5 (statement of licensing policy), after subsection (6C) insert—“(6D) In determining or revising its policy, a licensing authority must have regard to any cumulative impact assessments published by it under section 5A.(6E) A licensing statement must—(a) summarise any cumulative impact assessments published by the licensing authority under section 5A, and(b) explain how the licensing authority has discharged its duty under subsection (6D).”(3) After section 5 of the Licensing Act 2003 (statement of licensing policy) insert—“5A Cumulative impact assessments(1) A licensing authority may publish a document (“a cumulative impact assessment”) stating that the licensing authority considers that the number of relevant authorisations in respect of premises in one or more parts of its area described in the assessment is such that it is likely that it would be inconsistent with the authority’s duty under section 4(1) to grant any further relevant authorisations in respect of premises in that part or those parts.(2) A cumulative impact assessment must set out the evidence for the authority’s opinion as set out in the assessment in accordance with subsection (1).(3) For the purposes of this section, “relevant authorisations” means—(a) premises licences;(b) club premises certificates.(4) A cumulative impact assessment may relate to all relevant authorisations or only to relevant authorisations of a kind described in the assessment.(5) Before publishing a cumulative impact assessment, the licensing authority must consult the persons mentioned in section 5(3).(6) For the purposes of the consultation, the licensing authority must provide the persons mentioned in section 5(3) with the following information—(a) the reasons why it is considering publishing a cumulative impact assessment;(b) a general indication of the part or parts of its area which it is considering describing in the assessment;(c) whether it considers that the assessment will relate to all relevant authorisations or only to relevant authorisations of a particular kind.(7) Where a licensing authority publishes a cumulative impact assessment, it must, before the end of each relevant period, consider whether it remains of the opinion stated in the assessment.(8) Before deciding whether it remains of that opinion, the licensing authority must consult the persons mentioned in section 5(3).(9) If the licensing authority is no longer of that opinion—(a) it must publish a statement to that effect, and (b) the duties in section 5(6D) and (6E) and subsection (7) of this section cease to apply in relation to the assessment.(10) If the licensing authority remains of that opinion, it must revise the cumulative impact assessment so that it—(a) includes a statement to that effect, and(b) sets out the evidence as to why the authority remains of that opinion.(11) A licensing authority must publish any revision of a cumulative impact assessment.(12) In subsection (7), “relevant period” means the period of three years beginning with the publication of the cumulative impact assessment or a revision of the cumulative impact assessment.””
209D: After Clause 122, insert the following new Clause—
“Late night levy requirements
(1) Section 125 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 (late night levy requirement) is amended as follows.(2) For subsections (1) and (2) substitute—“(1) In this Chapter, “a late night levy requirement” means a requirement to pay a late night levy in accordance with this Chapter.(2) A licensing authority may decide that a late night levy requirement is to apply in its area or in a part of its area in respect of—(a) relevant late night alcohol authorisations relating to premises in the area or the part, or(b) relevant late night alcohol authorisations and relevant late night refreshment authorisations relating to premises in the area or the part.(2A) Accordingly, references in this Chapter to a late night authorisation to which a late night levy requirement relates are references to any relevant late night alcohol authorisation or relevant late night refreshment authorisation in respect of which the late night levy requirement applies.(2B) A licensing authority may decide under subsection (2) that different late night levy requirements are to apply in different parts of its area.”(3) In subsection (3)(a), after “supply of alcohol” insert “or late night refreshment”.(4) Omit subsection (4).(5) Schedule (Late night levy requirements) makes further amendments of Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 (late night levy).”
Amendments 209C and 209D agreed.
210: After Clause 122, insert the following new Clause—
“General duties of licensing authorities
(1) Section 4 of the Licensing Act 2003 (general duties of licensing authorities) is amended as follows.(2) After subsection (2)(d) insert—“(e) compliance with the provisions of the Equality Act 2010.””
Amendment 210 is in my name and the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas, Lady Pitkeathley and Lady Campbell—all former members of the Lords Select Committee on equality and disability, which reported in March this year. The report found many areas of transport, employment, education, communication and law enforcement failing in their impact on disabled people. We made recommendations that were carefully crafted to be cost neutral, or very inexpensive, and that would ensure a fair deal for the growing number of disabled people. Very few of our recommendations involved changing the law, but this is one of them. It is a simple, economic and transformative amendment, central to our recommendations, which would go a long way to adjusting our living environment to the needs of disabled and elderly people.
Licensing authorities have a duty, under Section 4 of the Licensing Act 2003, to promote, in their duties of inspection and licensing,
“the prevention of crime and disorder … public safety … the prevention of public nuisance; and … the protection of children from harm”.
Amendment 210 would add a fifth enforceable duty, namely compliance with the Equality Act. In taking evidence from disabled people and those involved with them, the Select Committee uncovered a weakness in enforcing existing duties, and at the same time found a way to improve life for disabled people and all of us as we get older. In their response to our report, the Government said that since the Equality Act already applied to businesses and employers, no more was needed, and that they were holding discussions with the hospitality industry to promote increased accessibility for disabled people. It is true that equality law applies across the board, but the issue is enforcement where equality is being denied. Sadly, it is clear that mere guidance and good will do not do the trick.
With this amendment, licensing authorities could require, for example, old and existing buildings to be made accessible. When they are out inspecting and find disabled facilities not being provided as they should be, they could review the licence. They could issue a warning or, in the last resort, remove a licence from an entertainment premises that refused customers because of their disability—or indeed sexuality or race—or charged extra to disabled visitors. At the moment, the licensing authority can only remind owners of premises of their duties under the Equality Act, and they have no teeth. Where the situation is not remedied, this amendment would shift the enforcement burden away from the individual disabled person or the person discriminated against—who, under existing law, have to take legal action on their own—to the local authority. It is self-financing. The functioning of this amendment would not depend on taxpayers’ money.
This extra condition in the Licensing Act would give local authorities in every sphere the power to say, “We are not going to licence you unless we see the premises are fit, or as fit as they can be, for disabled persons’ use”. The Select Committee learned that the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement officers would support this. Businesses that already comply would have nothing to fear from it. Indeed, some already behave as we would all wish. For example, Newham Council denied planning permission unless all new stations in Newham were step-free. By way of contrast, the committee heard evidence that new shared spaces and pedestrianised shopping areas were designed sometimes without regard to accessibility by disabled people. It is no answer to say, as Ministers tend to, that guidance to the authorities is all that is required. Guidance is no substitute for enforceability.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities carried out an inquiry into the condition of the UK’s disability programmes and reported on 6 October. The United Nations committee condemned the lack of cumulative assessments of the impact of cuts and other recent policies affecting disabled persons. It called on the UK to ensure that in the implementation of legislation, policies and programmes, special attention is paid to the most vulnerable disabled people and it requires the UK to report back on the steps taken to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. That report is not out of date, it is bang up to date. Amendment 210 would not only go a long way to achieving the aims of the Lords Select Committee but would assist the Government in making a decent response to the United Nations committee and avoiding international opprobrium. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is also on Amendment 210 which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has said, is one of the recommendations of our committee. I am particularly speaking about how the amendment would apply to existing, rather than new, premises. Before I go any further, I should say something about the Select Committee on the Licensing Act. I do understand what is being said but my mind goes back to the words of a pop song of the 1960s:
“Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day”.
This might be, “Catch a passing Bill and put it in your pocket”. That is an important point: maybe some Members do not quite appreciate how difficult it is to get Bills into the legislative programme.
The vague terms used by the then Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities in her evidence to the committee about spreading good practice rather than legislating in this area simply will not do, as it does not work. The licensing solicitor at Sheffield Council, Marie-Claire Frankie, was clear when she gave evidence to our committee:
“What could strengthen the licensing authority and give them the ability to enforce it is to make a fifth objective related to equality”.
She said specifically that a friendly word in somebody’s ear at the premises, even if followed up by a letter from the local authority, just did not work. She went on:
“For old and existing premises that transferred over before the Licensing Act, there is not anything that we can go back and revoke licences on or anything that we can add conditions on. Because of the licensing objectives, there is no way of getting it before a committee because they are not breaching crime and disorder; they are not committing public nuisance; they are not publicly unsafe; and they are not endangering children. If there was an additional objective relating to equality, there would be a mechanism to get it before a committee, to enable the local authority and the licensing authority to do something”.
We are talking only about reasonable adjustments, not a mandatory lift, say, if a small club, restaurant, pub or other entertainment venue is entirely upstairs. No one wants premises closed down, but what those of us who are disabled want is as much accessibility as possible, and we do not want to have to go to court to get such access. I hope the Government will accept the amendment.
My Lords, I am also very pleased to add my name to Amendment 210 in the name of my noble friend Lady Deech, who I must say not only ably chaired the Select Committee on how disabled people are faring under the Equality Act but has become a passionate leader for access.
There is a recurring theme in responses to calls for statutory enforcement of disabled people’s access rights, which is that guidance and awareness is much better. This is clearly exemplified in the recent rejection of my amendment to the Bus Services Bill and the lacklustre response to the Select Committee’s report on how disabled people are doing under the Equality Act, as my noble friend Lady Deech has powerfully said. If guidance works so well, why, 21 years after the passing of disability discrimination legislation, are disabled people still denied access to so many pubs, clubs, restaurants and entertainment venues because they are inaccessible? Is it because we cannot enjoy ourselves? I do not think so. I believe there are two major reasons.
First, many service providers who operate from licensed premises are either unaware of their duties under the Equality Act or think they can ignore them with impunity—from the local publican to the London club owner. To most, it is a remote piece of legislation, and only a few understand its relevance. It does not touch the general day-to-day running of the business, so little thought is given to disabled people’s access needs unless these are brought to their attention, usually by a very frustrated and angry disabled person who cannot get in. However, if their licence to trade from those premises was in jeopardy of being withdrawn on the grounds of inaccessibility, the importance of the duty would be so much clearer and change would happen.
Secondly, disabled people, as has been said already, have borne the sole burden of enforcing their rights to social inclusion for years. These are the people least likely to have the resources to challenge a barrier-ridden society, especially when access to justice has become so difficult. So, venues and facilities are likely to remain inaccessible. Our Select Committee received a lot of evidence from witnesses illustrating this. In fact, while waiting to speak today I have received 21 tweets from disabled people telling me of pubs, restaurants and facilities in their area that they cannot get into— 21 tweets in just over an hour.
The Government need to back a more proactive enforcement stance. Compliance with the Equality Act should be added to the objectives of the Licensing Act to ensure that it is followed. When the Select Committee visited a local centre for independent living in Tower Hamlets, I was struck by the similarities of people’s experiences and frustrations with my own 25 years ago, when I was actively campaigning for the Disability Discrimination Act. They told me about the general reluctance to make reasonable adjustments, and the excuses are the same now as they were then: “no money”, “burden on business”, “more advice and guidance needed”. You name it, disabled people have heard it, year on year. Two weeks ago I was having a similar exchange with the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, over my amendment to require accessibility policies as a condition of granting a bus operator’s licence. Today is Groundhog Day, this time over empowering local authorities to withdraw a licence to trade or impose conditions if the Equality Act is ignored. This would not add duties—they are already in place—but it would help to enforce them. What is offered? More guidance. The status quo prevails.
No wonder disabled people are worn down and cynical. No wonder the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities believes the Government are failing in their duty to progress disability equality. This is not my idea of “a society that works for everyone”. I really hope the Government will break the mould today and seriously consider Amendment 210.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 214A, which I believe is in the same group. I had rather assumed that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, was going to speak to his amendment, and I am quite happy to wait and let him do so now, as he is in the Chamber.
My Lords, that is very kind of the noble Lord; I apologise for not being in my place. I shall speak to my Amendment 211. In doing so, I declare my interest as a patron of the British Liver Trust and several other charities related to health issues that arise from alcohol abuse. In particular, as I said earlier, I declare my membership of the House’s Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003. One of the questions that we have posed in our call for evidence is:
“Are the existing four licensing objectives the right ones for licensing authorities to promote? Should the protection of health and wellbeing be an additional objective?”.
We have received a lot of evidence on this and continue to do so in the oral hearings that we are currently running, and I do not want to trespass much on the committee’s continuing review.
I know it could be argued in light of what happened in the debate relating to the previous amendments that maybe this should be left until the committee’s deliberations come out. Alternatively, the Government might argue that as Scotland already has a fifth objective relating to health and well-being, we might wait and see what develops with the Scottish position. However, given that I have seen the Government decide that they can put an amendment through and then stay their hand until such time as they receive the report from us, I think I am perfectly in order to move this amendment today and, I hope, persuade them that there is a case for it to be adopted. Maybe then we could wait until spring to see what comes out of the Select Committee’s review; and if the recommendation in its report is in accord with what I am putting before the House we could then implement it.
There are more pressing reasons why this needs addressing, even more than the earlier amendment about the conduct of affairs relating to alcohol at night. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, enumerated this morning a range of the problems that we continue to have with alcohol. However, the second and more pressing issue is that the topic on which this amendment has been brought forward is not a new one; I brought forward a Private Member’s Bill on it about two years ago, supported by the Local Government Association. We can go back quite some time to 2010, when the then Government were looking at the difficulties that had arisen then. They had recognised a problem with the 2003 Act. They then consulted on the addition of a specific prevention of health harm objective in the 2010 Rebalancing the Licensing Act consultation. Some 38% of the respondents were supportive, 37%—primarily the drinks industry—were against, and 25% were neutral. The Government decided not to legislate at the time but did not really explain why. They simply stated that they saw,
“merit in the proposal to make the prevention of health harm a material consideration in the Licensing Act 2003. We … will consider the best way to do so in the future”.
So we have been at this now since around 2010.
The reason why this is now becoming more imperative is that as time has gone by, while I concede that in many respects we are getting evidence that the 2003 Act has worked quite well in certain areas—we have seen less alcohol being drunk than was the case in 2003, though whether that is related directly to the Act is questionable, and there are fewer violent incidents and less crime associated with alcohol than perhaps was the case originally—on the other side of the coin we have seen a dramatic increase in the deleterious effects of alcohol on the health of the nation. We saw about 400,000 people being admitted to hospital in 2003 with health difficulties related to alcohol but the figure is now in the order of 1.2 million and is getting worse. The charity I am associated with, the British Liver Trust, is seeing an increasing number of people dying from liver disease, mostly associated with alcohol consumption and abuse, with increasingly a number of younger people being affected in that way. We now have 9 million adults drinking at levels that increase the risk of harm to their health, while 1.6 million adults show signs of full alcohol dependency. Alcohol is now the third biggest risk factor for illness and death.
I am speaking entirely personally here, not representing anything of the Select Committee’s view, but I believe that in many respects the 2003 Act is now out of date. It was designed in 2003 primarily to deal with the on trade, relating to pubs, clubs and fixed premises, where people in the 1990s and at the turn of the century drank. However, we have seen a complete shift over the last 10 or 12 years in the growth of the number of licences being granted—almost like confetti, in my view—to supermarkets, mini markets, small shops and even petrol stations. Almost everywhere you go now, you will find alcohol on sale. In a sense, alcohol has become an ordinary commodity. In supermarkets it is being sold no differently from soap powder or a tin of beans. It has become normalised in our community and has changed the culture. This needs to be examined to see whether it is moving in the right direction, in the same way as I argued earlier when noble Lords proceeded to pass the legislation regarding “will do” on introducing powdered alcohol into the community. Anything goes, we move towards liberalisation, and it gets worse in health terms.
In my opinion, the 2003 Act does not adequately deal with what is happening on the off side of the licensing trade. We now see big developments taking place online that were never envisaged when this legislation was laid before us. Amazon has a most amazing array of products. Noble Lords who like drinking a lot and cheaply should go on Amazon and see just what is on offer to them. It can be delivered in hours on any day of the week, any week of the year. It is available very cheaply right through the year. Before long, no doubt, we will have Uber doing similar deliveries as quickly as possible. In no way is that touched by the Licensing Act; it is a different world entirely.
People will argue that you cannot do anything with the existing Licensing Act because it relates solely to premises—“What does that have to do with health?”, “How do you prove it is damaging health?”, and so on. In my view, there are changes ahead. Most of the major supermarkets, apart I think from Morrisons, have plans to increase the number of convenience or metro mini markets around the country, moving away from big premises to smaller ones. They have plans to extend these around the country and I am certain, sure as night follows day, that they will all have a licence to sell alcohol. If we go in there and queue to pay at the till, we will find that alcohol is piled up to the ceiling all around us, not just in our full view but in the view of children. This is changing an attitude generally so that the commodity of alcohol is normalised and just becomes part of our way of life, but it is damaging health and we are doing nothing about it.
There is an opportunity, I believe, if we are prepared to consider what I am putting before us, to explore ways in which we could at least start to pull it back a little bit. That does not mean to say that we stop issuing licences, but we should attach conditions to those licences that would stop alcohol being sold at the front of the supermarket in everybody’s face. Asda managers have tried to do it voluntarily, but when they saw that their competitors were not doing it, they said, “Well, why the hell should we bother?”, and they went back to putting it at the front. The voluntary approach is not working.
We now have demands from the police, from the police commissioners, from the health authorities, from the BMA and from almost anybody you can mention who has an interest in the health side that a change is needed. It should not be attached solely to the way in which we have run the Act up to now based on the premise that we should look to do something on a cumulative basis. If there are far too many people selling alcohol in a particular area, there should not be further licences; or if further licences are given, there should be more stringent conditions that would be related to the changes in the health of the area affected. They are doing it in Scotland and they are making progress; it is high time that the UK should do the same.
Sarah Wollaston, the chair of the Health Select Committee in the Commons, is in full agreement on this, and wanted to table amendments herself for this change, so there is some good support in the Commons for it. If the wording is wrong, I offer the Minister my willingness to talk about a change in the wording to a form that would be more acceptable. If the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is responding, I make a further suggestion, particularly because she comes from Manchester. That city will be the first test-bed area, where it will not only be responsible for health and care and well-being but have total control over its funding. I suggest we consider whether, in conjunction with Manchester, we might run an experiment in the north-west to see what we can do. Manchester would be up for it, and all the responsible bodies would welcome it. Accordingly, I would be happy to consider drafting an amendment to the Bill. We could then review the provision after, perhaps, two years.
I am open to a conversation on this, but we must do something. We cannot just leave it as it is, making all the excuses under the sun, saying that it is too difficult, and listening to the drinks industry—which, understandably, says, “We can’t do it; we shouldn’t do it; we don’t want to go near it”. For the sake of the health of the nation, and for the sake of the harmed, cash-strapped National Health Service, which has great problems ahead of it, alcohol is one of the major problems that we have to tackle. We should do it forthwith, without delay.
My Lords, during the Second World War, Archbishop William Temple once said:
“Whenever I travel on the underground I always intend to buy a ticket, but the fact that there is a ticket collector at the other end just clinches it”.
The reason why I strongly support Amendment 210, moved so powerfully already, is that it just clinches something that ought not to need an amendment of that kind. What it clinches is the need for licensing authorities to perform their duty by complying with the terms of the Equality Act 2010.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, when she was deputy chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, and the noble Lord, Lord Low, with regard to the Disability Rights Commission, will both remember how those two commissions carried out strategic law enforcement functions effectively. The problem at present is that the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has far too broad a mandate, especially in terms of human rights—it lacks needed resources and having priorities determined—is not carrying out the kind of duty in the way that was done by the previous equality bodies. It is not giving effective, strategic law enforcement. Therefore, there is no use relying on the admirable Equality Act 2010 by itself if it is not going to be translated into practical action.
The great advantage of Amendment 210 is that it seeks to translate into practice in this Bill the need for compliance with the Equality Act 2010 in relation to disability discrimination in a way that no general guidance or mere verbiage can do. Therefore, I very much hope that this amendment—or something very much like it—will find its way on to the statute book.
My Lords, I apologise that I have not been able to take part in earlier discussions on this Bill. When you are a member of a party with one representative here, it is a little difficult at times. I am very keen to support Amendment 210, which relates to a matter very close to my heart. I declare my interest as a vice-president of Mencap.
In 1981, I was fortunate enough to introduce legislation—there are some Members in the Chamber now who were in the other place at that time—that became the Disabled Persons Act 1981. That provided for access to places for disabled people—buildings, places of entertainment, et cetera—that required a provision to be made. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has said, the trouble is that there is no comeback. There were not enough teeth in that Act and there have not been enough teeth in successive pieces of legislation over the 35 years that have gone on since then. There needs to be the sort of provision built in here to ensure that what is agreed as public policy actually does take place. I press the Minister to seriously consider accepting this or bringing in equal provisions to ensure that this happens.
My Lords, I now speak to Amendment 212, which is on placing child protection as a statutory consultee for statements of licencing policy. The background is that, if we come back to the Licensing Act 2003, this is a modest attempt to add another objective. We have the protection of children from harm as one of the existing four.
Despite the existence of this objective, and the fact that Section 13(4)(f) of the Act recognises child protection as the body responsible for this objective, Section 5(3) does not include child protection as a statutory consultee in respect of statements of licensing policies—SLPs, as we know them. Every local authority is required to produce SLPs outlining how it aims to uphold the licensing objectives in its specific area. SLPs are important local documents and should be taken into account in all licensing decisions. As such, they are important in the way in which child protection issues relate to licensing, and should be highlighted and acted upon.
Under the present arrangements, statutory consultees are,
“(a) the chief officer of police for the licensing authority’s area, (b) the fire and rescue authority for that area, (c) such persons as the licensing authority considers to be representative of holders of premises licences issued by the authority, (d) such persons as the licensing authority considers to be representative holders of club premises certificates issued by that authority, (e) such persons as the licensing authority considers to be representative of holders of personal licences issued by that authority, and (f) such other persons as the licensing authority considers to be representative of businesses and residents in its area”.
The fact that no child protection body is included in that list of statutory consultees is a clear legislative gap, one that could easily be closed by this modest amendment. The greatly increased focus on safeguarding within licensing as a result of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation case suggests that there is now a pressing need for this.
My Lords, this is a fascinating group of amendments, full of variety and suggestions of all kinds to the Minister. My amendment is no different: it adds yet another suggestion to her, which I am sure she will consider carefully.
I speak to Amendment 214A. The primary measurable success of reforms such as the Live Music Act 2012 and entertainment deregulation is that they have reduced costs and complexity for small-scale events, as well as tidying up primary legislation and how it interacts with guidance. I hope it is common ground that that is welcome.
However, despite these positive changes, the 2% dip in the music industry’s overall GVA performance in 2015, as reported in UK Music’s annual Measuring Music report, is attributable to a decline in concert revenue from grass-roots music venues. They provide an important mechanism for talent development and a means for artists to cultivate skills and access audiences. There are myriad examples of major stars who have had their beginnings in such grass-roots venues.
In 2015, there were 5.6 million visits to UK small venues, generating £231 million in spend in the process. More widely, the number of operating grass-roots music venues has declined by 35% in the past decade in London. However, the problem is not unique to the capital, with venues in Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bristol, Plymouth, Newport and Swindon—to mention just a few—having either closed or had considerable threats of closure placed on their businesses in recent years.
Although not the sole cause of venue closures, restrictive licensing laws are often cited as a contributing factor. The existing licensing objectives under Section 4(2) of the Licensing Act 2003 reinforce perceptions that entertainment regulated under the Act is something to be controlled rather than enabled. The Act does nothing specifically to encourage cultural participation and enjoyment, for instance. This is a missed opportunity, given the importance of the Act in making events and activities happen. The lack of a positive licensing objective to support provision for entertainment can maintain prejudices between licensing authorities and licensees about their respective motivations. This is unhelpful in creating a licensing environment that works for live music. It is time for a change of approach.
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, and my noble friend Lady Grender reminded us, the House of Lords is currently conducting a post-legislative scrutiny inquiry into the operation of the Licensing Act 2003. UK Music, the umbrella body for the commercial music industry, argued during the inquiry that consideration should be given to the introduction of a new licensing objective,
“the promotion of cultural activity and inclusion”.
This would sit alongside the other licensing objectives and assist local authorities when discharging their functions.
The amendment would introduce a fifth licensing objective to address,
“the promotion of cultural activity and inclusion”.
It would sit alongside existing objectives and assist licensing authorities when discharging functions. Simple licensing conditions can lead to additional cost to the venue and result in less profit per event. Less profit means that a venue’s ability to attract quality acts will be reduced, and therefore fewer events will take place.
Research conducted by the Music Venue Trust, reported by the Mayor of London’s music venues task force, demonstrated that one London venue had more than 70 separate conditions on its licence. Another had its capacity set at the same level as before the smoking ban, despite the risk of fire now being reduced. We have been made aware that conditions related to music are still featuring on some small venue licences, despite the fact that they should be benefiting from the recent entertainment exemptions. There is clearly an argument to be had about the extent to which the spirit of the law and the decisions made by Parliament to deregulate are filtering down to licensing authorities.
“the promotion of cultural activity and inclusion”,
is necessary, as licensing authorities rely on the existing objectives, which are also supported by other pieces of legislation, when assessing complaints and applications. Despite music’s social, cultural and economic benefits, the Licensing Act’s existing objectives specifically make regulation of live music for larger venues a public order issue associated with nuisance, crime and disorder, public safety and protection from harm. That failure to have a licence for music could lead to criminal sanctions and penalties, such as large fines or terms of imprisonment, can reinforce negative perceptions in licensing authorities.
It is of course right that current licensing objectives relating to public safety, protecting children from harm, and the prevention of crime and disorder and public nuisance are given full consideration, but without a positive objective when responding to applications or complaints relating to entertainment, licensing authorities are not encouraged to acknowledge the economic, cultural and social benefits of these activities to local communities.
The recent revocation of iconic London nightclub Fabric’s premises licence has been well documented, with more than 150,000 people signing a petition seeking the intervention of the Mayor of London. I would not want to speculate that a fifth licensing objective along the lines for which I am arguing would have resulted in a different outcome in this instance, but I am certain that if it was in place, Islington Council would have had to be more mindful of the strength of feeling about Fabric and justify its decision in terms of the venue’s impact on public enjoyment as well.
Other countries and cities across the world are also looking at what they can do to preserve their venues by positive action. Put simply, a new licensing objective for,
“the promotion of cultural activity and inclusion”,
would not open the floodgates but provide a suitable test for licensing authorities to judge an application or appeal by assessing the wider public benefit that an event or venue may create, and help to prevent further unnecessary closure of our culturally important music venues.
At the very least, if the Minister cannot accept the amendment, I hope she will follow her previous practice in being prepared to speak to proponents of it and listen to the evidence that they put forward about the impact of licensing laws on grass-roots music venues. Her ministerial colleagues have been very helpful in amending planning guidance in this respect, which has helped somewhat in change of use for premises near live music venues. I hope that Ministers, having shown themselves sympathetic to grass-roots music venues, will continue in that vein and meet UK Music and the Music Venues Trust to discuss the issues further.
My Lords, in particular, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, Amendment 214A. He does not define cultural activity, but it would clearly include, at least in part, the night-time economy. There has in recent years been a perfect storm of circumstance for our night-time economy. Rising rents and business rates, property developments, noise complaints, complaints about anti-social behaviour and more have conspired to devastate our night-time cultural landscape. London alone has, in the past five years, lost 50% of its clubs and more than 40% of its music venues, but the same problems are afflicting towns and cities everywhere in the UK, and some cities abroad.
Having said that, closures often hinge on a single concern, which might have been avoided given a wider, more constructive approach. This problem has implications at many levels. As an economy, we will suffer in the long term, as the night-time economy is hugely important to the country. In 2014, it was worth up to £26.3 billion. It is part of what makes London, in particular, an international cultural city. Under the amendment, licensing authorities would see it as part of their remit to address head-on the problems facing their local communities in this provision. We risk parts of our towns and cities becoming night-time dead areas, which is not good for their safety or social fabric. We risk taking the heart out of many of our cities.
The closure of live music venues does not reflect decreasing demand from the public. Witness the protest against the closure of Passing Clouds, a live music and community venue in Dalston, earlier in the year. Events manager Gudrun Getz said that,
“property developers are seeking to cash in on the huge popularity of Dalston which we ourselves were instrumental in helping to establish”.
She also says that there is,
“a huge … fear in the community at the moment that we are going to lose all of our space and there will be nowhere for musicians to play”.
This would of course be a terrible loss for London and elsewhere in the country.
I heard an interview broadcast on Thursday on the BBC World Service with Amsterdam’s counterpart to our new night tsar Amy Lamé—night mayor Mirik Milan, the first one anywhere and now with two years’ experience in the job. His concern has been not just with the clubs and music venues that are his background but the public space of which they are a part—space shared by the local businesses, restaurants, tourists and local residents. He is as concerned with the lighting outside a club in the public space, and with finding a way to deal with residents’ complaints, as the clubs themselves. His remit is clearly broad. He says:
“You have to get all the stakeholders to the table to solve these tough issues”.
But he also goes on to say, about attitudes to the use of that space, that,
“change will only come from investing in communities. It will never come from stricter rules”.
In this country, we urgently need a more co-ordinated approach to this problem, and a broader, more positive and inclusive outlook from our licensing authorities would be a significant step in the right direction. This amendment would shift the attitude in the Licensing Act from one of control and limiting—from simply making rules—to one of enabling. This can only be to our benefit. Our cultural venues are hugely important. This is a chance for the Government to show that they believe that our night-time arts and culture are not add-ons but necessary parts of the social fabric of our towns and cities, and are, importantly, part of the building of that fabric.
My Lords, I congratulate noble Lords who have tabled and so eloquently moved and spoken to the amendments before the Committee.
Speaking in a personal capacity, I seek guidance from the Minister, who now has a wish list of an additional three or more objectives that could be included in the amendments. In her response, can she explain what original criteria were used to establish the original objectives, as set out in the Licensing Act 2003? More particularly, what is the distinction from what has been achieved by a piece of legislation from an earlier Conservative Administration, of which I am extremely proud, the Disability Discrimination Act? How is that different from Amendment 210?
I was struck by the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, about catching a falling star. I revert to the earlier theme of why this falling star has been snatched when we have a history over the past 10 or 15 years—possibly even 18 or 20—of every 18 months considering a police and crime or justice Bill that could have neatly included some of these amendments, certainly those that we looked at earlier. As well as “catch a falling star”, one could also say, “pick’n’mix” or “liquorice allsorts”. My favourite would be Mackintosh’s Quality Street but, sadly, there is no relation.
I conclude by paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who chaired the earlier ad hoc committee with such distinction. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, we have moved on to another part of the Bill. I should declare that I am an elected councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham and a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I do not serve on the licensing committee of Lewisham Council; I have enough to do on the planning committee. However, many years ago, I was a member of the licensing committee of Southwark Council. In those days, we considered only music and dance licences. One still had to apply to the magistrates’ court for a late-night alcohol licence. That has all changed and these matters are now under the control of the licensing committee.
This has been an interesting debate on four important amendments, all of which I support. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and other noble Lords made very valid points in respect of licensing authorities’ compliance with the provisions of the Equality Act. This is an issue of enforcement, rather than advice and guidance. Being able to remind licence holders of their duty is not good enough because it has not worked as effectively as it should. We should force licensed premises to be able to be used by disabled people.
My noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe spoke about the need for a duty to promote health and well-being. Local authorities have such general duties but for there to be a specific requirement in respect of licensed premises is a new initiative. He made important points about the changes to availability of alcohol and consumption patterns. They have certainly changed. My noble friend was clear and we can all think back on how many pubs have closed while alcohol is more available in convenience stores and supermarkets. Things have changed in the past 20 years. He also made important points on the duty of authorities to look after young people and protect them from harm.
As regards the promotion of cultural activity and inclusion, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has an impressive record in this House of standing up for live music and other cultural activities. He is right to stand up for grass-roots music venues, which have launched many a career in the entertainment industry. I agree with the noble Lord that music and other activities should be helped and supported where possible through the licensing system, rather than just regulated. I recall a debate on a different subject in the Moses Room, when we talked about a range of regulations that sometimes affect people going about their lawful business and allowing them to busk and so on. Decisions on this are being taken by officials of local authorities, rather than elected members, which is worrying. It is a slightly different but similar point. I also agree with what the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, said about the industry.
My Lords, Amendments 210, 211 and 214A in this group seek to add to the list of licensing objectives under the Licensing Act 2003. In answer to my noble friend Lady McIntosh’s question, there are currently four such objectives. These are: the prevention of crime and disorder; public safety; the prevention of public nuisance; and the protection of children from harm. The promotion of the licensing objectives is of paramount importance when authorities make licensing decisions, and each one carries equal weight.
Amendment 210 seeks to add,
“compliance with the provisions of the Equality Act 2010”,
to the list of licensing objectives. As we have heard, the amendment flows from a recommendation made by the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Committee, which reported in March. I was pleased to be able to respond in our debate on that. All four noble Baronesses who put their name to this amendment served on that committee.
The committee recommended that the Licensing Act 2003 be amended to make failure to comply with the Equality Act 2010 a ground for refusing a licence. In their response published in July, the Government argued that, as employers and businesses were already under a duty to comply with the statutory obligations imposed by the Equality Act not to discriminate against staff or customers, the Act offered sufficient protection. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate for the 2003 Act to duplicate the requirements of the 2010 Act, just as it would be inappropriate to make express reference to other legislation—such as the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 or the Noise Act 1996—all of which places requirements and responsibilities on licensing authorities and licensees.
Moreover, if we were to apply the logic of Amendment 122 more broadly, we should also be amending the Gambling Act, and indeed many other statutes, to place analogous obligations on those undertaking other forms of regulated activity. To single out the operators of businesses licensed under the 2003 Act could be taken as downgrading the obligations on all other businesses to similarly comply with the requirements of the Equality Act. I am sure that noble Lords would not wish to give that impression.
This is not to say that those running licensed premises should not be doing more to facilitate access by disabled people. Earlier this year the Minister for Disabled People held a round table event with disabled people and the hospitality industry to lead to a better understanding by service providers and businesses and a commitment from them to improve access and attitudes. Organisations represented at the round table made pledges to improve accessibility to their premises and improve their customer service for disabled people. For example, the British Beer and Pub Association pledged to update and promote its guidance on accessibility in pubs. This gives pubs advice on easy changes they can make to improve their service to disabled customers. These are very practical steps which will help to improve the day-to-day experiences of disabled people.
Amendment 211, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, seeks to add an additional licensing objective,
“to promote the health and wellbeing of the locality and local area”.
The Government are not unsympathetic to those who believe that there should be a greater role for public health within the licensing system, and we of course acknowledge the health harms attributable to alcohol. However, decisions under the Licensing Act have to be proportionate and made on a case-by-case basis. Unless it can be demonstrated that an application for a new licence is likely to undermine one or more of the licensing objectives, the licensing authority must grant the licence. The Government believe that any new licensing objective would need to be capable of standing alongside the existing objectives and function in the same way. Any new objective must therefore enable licensing authorities to determine whether it is appropriate to grant or refuse new applications, review licences and attach conditions or revoke licences.
Previous work has shown that it is difficult to establish direct causal links between alcohol-related health harms such as chronic liver disease and particular premises. Difficulties also remain with putting in place the necessary processes to enable the collection of such evidence—without which decisions based on health grounds would be unlikely to stand up to challenge. Work to date has established that the types of health data that are more readily accessible and most suited to use in a licensing context tend to relate to acute harms such as violent assaults and alcohol-related injuries. These harms, as well as most factors affecting well-being, such as crime levels and the welfare of children, can already be addressed through the existing licensing objectives, as demonstrated by the achievements of areas such as the Kensington area of Liverpool, Newcastle and Middlesbrough.
The Government will therefore continue working with Public Health England to facilitate access to local health data to inform decision-making within the current framework and to help public health teams play a role within licensing. Public Health England has also been testing a support package to assist with the development of local data collection and analysis based on lessons learned from the evidence-based work carried out in 2014-15. I assure the noble Lord that the Government continue to look at this matter seriously and will consider the findings of Public Health England.
Amendment 214A seeks to add,
“the promotion of cultural activity and inclusion”,
to the licensing objectives. This would require licensing authorities to consider the character of licensable activities, rather than purely protect against the potential harm caused by licensable activity. The existing licensing objectives seek to reduce harm that can be evidenced, and licence conditions which are intended to reduce the level of harm can be easily understood—for example, a requirement to restrict noise levels to prevent public nuisance.
It would be difficult to replicate this for “cultural activity and inclusion”, since this is quite a subjective matter and may be interpreted in different ways. For example, would a festival of Hindi films or Irish dance be considered good or bad in terms of cultural activity and inclusion? Making this a licensing objective could place licensing authorities in a censorious position, whereby licensees organising events might be obliged to explain what additional cultural value their entertainment might generate, and the licensing authorities would be required to evaluate that information.
The final amendment in this group, Amendment 212, seeks to add child protection bodies to the list of statutory consultees for statements of licensing policy. Each licensing authority is required to publish a statement of licensing policy and to revise it at least every five years. The statement sets out the general approach to making licensing decisions and managing the evening and night-time economy in the area.
Section 5(3) of the 2003 Act sets out a list of organisations and individuals who must be consulted when the statement is reviewed. The list includes the police, the fire and rescue authority and the public health body, but it is not intended to be exhaustive and therefore does not include all the responsible authorities. The 2003 Act does not prevent licensing authorities from consulting other bodies or persons as they see appropriate.
A selected competent body representative of those responsible for child protection in an area has a statutory role as a responsible authority under the 2003 Act. This may be the local authority social services department, the Local Safeguarding Children Board, or another competent body. The protection of children from harm is one of the four licensing objectives, and as such is taken into consideration in all licensing decisions. Further, the statement of licensing policy must set out the licensing authority’s approach to promoting each of the licensing objectives. In practice, the work of licensing authorities with child protection services to ensure that the protection of children from harm is given appropriate consideration.
It is of paramount importance that children and young people are protected from harm. Harm takes different forms in different areas and we have to make sure that local licensing authorities are taking the right steps for that area to ensure the best protection of children and vulnerable individuals, including from the risk of sexual exploitation. Tackling child sexual exploitation is a top priority for this Government and we will continue the urgent work of overhauling how our police, social services and other agencies work together to protect vulnerable children, especially from the kind of organised grooming and sexual exploitation that has come to light in Rotherham, Rochdale and other towns and cities across the UK.
Given the ongoing work of the Licensing Act 2003 Select Committee, of which the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, is a member, this has been a timely debate. That committee is due to complete its work by the end of March. I have no doubt that the committee will consider the issues raised in this debate today as part of its deliberations, and we look forward with interest to studying the committee’s report. The Government will, naturally, consider very carefully the conclusions and recommendations put forward by the committee on these and other issues relating to the operation of the 2003 Act.
I will answer rather belatedly a question from my noble friend Lady McIntosh. The Licensing Act 2003 was passed by the previous Labour Administration. We believe that its focus on preventing alcohol-related crime and disorder and protecting children is the right one. There is a real danger that adding new and potentially conflicting licensing objectives will render the licensing regime unworkable. However, we will, as I have said, consider carefully any recommendation put forward by the Select Committee.
We have already had the benefit of the report from the Equality Act committee, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. The Government have considered the recommendation from the committee in relation to the 2003 Act. I know that the noble Baroness will be disappointed by the Government’s response, but I hope that she and the co-signatories of this amendment will understand the reasons for it and that she will be content to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am not quite sure that the Minister has answered anything to do with Amendment 214A.
My Lords, I did. It may be that it was so dull a response that the noble Lord did not catch it. Shall I put it in writing and send it to him?
I shall read her response, but it was very short.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who supported our Amendment 210, but clearly I am disappointed with the Government’s answer, which has not moved from the response issued several months ago, before the change of Administration. I thought that we were convinced: given that this Government have a target of halving the unemployment rate of disabled people and that the Prime Minister said in her first statement on taking office that this Government should work for everyone and allow everyone to reach their potential, surely they must move on this.
I have not heard a single argument to undermine the thrust of Amendment 210. The background is that disabled people gave evidence that the Disability Discrimination Act was a much better tool than the Equality Act, because the latter puts all the protective characteristics together and thus, although well-meaning, does not give sufficient weight to the needs of disabled people, who need a bit more than just equality.
Moreover, I take issue with the Minister’s saying that the amendment would simply duplicate the Equality Act. It does no such thing. First, it shifts the burden of enforcement away from the individual who is discriminated against to the local authority. That is the main aim. A pledge, I am sorry to say, is insufficient. If the entertainment industry gives a pledge, or if we all pledge to pay tax or obey immigration law, I do not think any Government would say, “A pledge, that’s just fine”. As has been proven, there are areas where one needs the teeth of the law. I appeal to the Minister: this Government should not appear hard-hearted. The Select Committee is offering them a way to respond to the United Nations’ inquiry which has so severely criticised this country’s approach to the needs of disabled people.
I have heard no reason why Amendment 210 should not pass. I cannot believe that the Licensing Act 2003 Committee, thorough though it is, will unearth any more than the Select Committee on equality and disability did. Once more, I appeal to the Government to accept the amendment and if they do not, I will emulate the advice given by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and pursue this star all the way to the other end of the rainbow.
My Lords, when I was speaking, the Minister was nodding so much that I thought she was agreeing with everything. I now realise she was trying to fend off her cold, but I was pleased to hear that the Government are not unsympathetic to the health objective in Amendment 211, and I am aware of the difficulties of putting this in place; it is not easy. I am also aware of the work being done by Public Health England and others in association with the Home Office. I look forward to that materialising and hope it will be presented to the Select Committee.
I did not get an answer to my point about Manchester, to which I thought she was nodding. May I speak to her separately about that away from the Chamber, when we might try to explore using that new initiative for something quite different? I will look carefully at what she had to say on the children’s amendment and decide what further action, if any, I can take.
My Lords, I may have blinked and missed the extended response I am sure the Minister gave. However, as I recall, it was simply that we do not need another licensing objective. Will she consider more carefully the question of whether other things could be done to encourage licensing authorities to take cultural matters into consideration in licensing, and in particular offer to meet those with an interest in this area, such as UK Music and the Music Venue Trust?
I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 210 withdrawn.
Amendments 211 and 212 not moved.
Amendment 213 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
214: After Clause 122, insert the following new Clause—
“Premises licence under Gambling Act 2005: gaming machines
(1) After section 172 of the Gambling Act 2005 insert—“172A Gaming machines: conditions on availability and use(1) The conditions which a licensing authority may attach to a premises licence under section 169 include a condition—(a) that no gaming machines for which the maximum charge for use is more than £10 may be made available for use on the premises, or(b) that the number of gaming machines of that description which may be made available on the premises must not exceed the number specified in the licence.(2) The conditions which a licensing authority may attach to a premises licence under section 169 also include conditions relating to the use of gaming machines; in particular, the conditions may include—(a) a condition that a person may not use a gaming machine unless he establishes his identity by the means and in the manner specified in the licence;(b) a condition that each payment for the use of a gaming machine must be made by the means specified in the licence and must be processed or approved by a person who, when the payment is made, is on the premises where the machine is situated and is acting in the course of the business carried on there. (3) The number of machines which may be specified for the purposes of subsection (1)(b) must be lower than the number of machines which is at that time authorised under section 172(8); but where the number of machines so authorised is subsequently varied—(a) the number of machines specified (or treated as specified) for the purposes of subsection (1)(b) is to be treated as varied by the same amount, and(b) the licence is to have effect accordingly.(4) A condition of the kind set out in subsection (2) may apply to gaming machines generally or only to gaming machines of a description specified in the condition.(5) In deciding whether to attach a condition of the kind set out in subsection (1) or (2), or whether to exercise the power under section 187 or 202 to add, remove or amend a condition of that kind, a licensing authority may give particular weight to the impact of the following on the promotion of the licensing objectives—(a) the number of other premises in the locality where the premises concerned are situated in which gaming machines are available for use,(b) the levels of crime and disorder in that locality,(c) the extent of social or economic deprivation in that locality, and(d) the proximity of the premises concerned to places habitually attended by children or other vulnerable persons.(6) In the case of a betting premises licence in respect of premises in Scotland other than a track, the licensing authority may add, remove or amend a condition of the kind set out in subsection (1) only if the licence was issued before 23 May 2016 (the day on which section 52 of the Scotland Act 2016 came into force).”(2) In section 172 of the Gambling Act 2005 (gaming machines), after subsection (11) insert—“(12) Subsections (8) and (10)(a) are subject to section 172A.”.”
My Lords, this amendment stands in my name and that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord James of Blackheath. There are also two slightly different amendments in the group in my name and that of the right reverend Prelate.
Fixed-odds betting terminals are gambling machines housed up to four at a time in betting shops in high streets and other streets, especially in poorer areas. Here people have been able to wager up to £100 on a machine every 20 seconds. While this has now been reduced to £50, unless the gambler in question has opened an account with the gambling company, if different machines are used it is still possible to stake as much as that in such a short time. Moreover, Ladbrokes alone revealed in its last half-year report that it had given away £3.7 million in free plays on fixed-odds betting terminals in just six months, nearly twice as much as for over-the-counter betting, clearly using this device to promote this particularly addictive form of gambling.
These terminals were authorised, I regret to say, by the Labour Government in 2005 and, by 2013, there were more than 33,000 machines, generating profits to bookmakers of £1.5 billion a year. Ladbrokes alone declared a profit of more than £1,022 per machine per week. In January 2014, my right honourable friend Ed Miliband sought to promote legislation giving councils the power to reduce the number of machines in shops, and increase the time between bets. At this point I should refer to my interest as a councillor in Newcastle and an honorary vice-president of the Local Government Association. Despite expressions of sympathy and concern at the time by David Cameron, a Labour Motion on the issue was defeated by 314 votes to 282 in the Commons. During the debate, the then Minister, Helen Grant, said that the Government were waiting for the findings of a study into how the machines were used and the real impact on players before deciding whether action was needed. We are approaching the third anniversary of that statement.
There are now 35,000 machines, with a concentration in less well-off areas, to the extent that the 55 poorest boroughs have, in proportion to population, four times as many as the best-off 115. Newham, whose council is in the forefront of calling for action and is one of the most deprived boroughs in the country, has no fewer than 87 shops with these terminals. Together with 92 other councils, Newham applied two years ago to secure, under the Sustainable Communities Act, the power to license gaming premises of this kind. I understand that the Government are woefully behind schedule with a determination of that appeal, indicative perhaps of their failure to address problems occasioned by this form of gambling. Perhaps the Minister could inform us, if not today then in writing, when they will publish their decision on that application—these applications arise under legislation enacted by the coalition Government.
In addition to the economic impact on households that can least afford it, there are other troubling issues associated with this essentially exploitative industry. Betting shops take up prominent space in high streets and, even more troublingly, in addition to the impact on the finances, health and well-being of their customers and their families, they have led to a significant increase in crime. The number of times police were called to incidents in betting shops rose by 51% in 2014 from the previous year. In Newham, police are called out, on average, once every day in the year.
I raised the issue of crime in these shops in an Oral Question on 5 September, pointing out that betting shops accounted for 97% of all police calls to gambling establishments and, even more alarming, for 40% of serious crimes against all businesses. I pointed out that no fewer than 7,000 machines a year in these premises are destroyed by gamblers, and that violent assaults on staff are increasing.
In that context, it is telling that in some shops with fixed-odds terminals the staff member—it is usually only one person now in many of these shops—is not permitted to leave what is called his or her “cage” until 6.30 pm. They are confined to that space. That is supposed to enhance their security. Your Lordships may think it is a peculiar way of doing so, and an unsatisfactory one.
It is significant that, as I have been informed today, Ladbrokes is now purchasing chairs to go into these shops weighing 35 kilogrammes, making them too heavy to be used by customers to damage the premises or injure the staff. To some extent it is recognising in that particular and rather—one might have thought—peculiar way that there is a risk of violent crime on the premises.
I asked the Minister what was happening about the training or review which is supposed to take place and in particular whether the Government would require at least two members of staff to be present at all relevant times in order to enhance the safety of those who run the shops, all too often on their own.
In the Minister’s reply to my noble friend Lord Rosser, who reminded her that she had not answered my questions in relation to those two aspects, the Minister averred that the Government would,
“consider the triennial review and take action if necessary”.
She referred somewhat opaquely to one of the measures,
“that gambling establishments and betting shops are taking is to have more staff”.—[Official Report, 5/9/16; col. 848.]
Can she update us on the state of the review and can she confirm that, given its clear recognition of the staffing issue, the Government will accept Amendment 214CA, which requires there to be at least two members of staff on the premises at all material times?
Amendment 214 in the name of the right reverend Prelate to which I and the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord James, have subscribed our names, seeks to amend the relevant provisions of the Gambling Act 2005 by empowering the licensing authority to impose a range of conditions, most notably restricting the maximum charge for using a machine to £10—in line with the noble Lord’s Private Member’s Bill which, of course, did not reach the statute book—together with determining the number of machines that might be deployed and conditions as to their use.
Importantly, proposed new subsection (5) allows the licensing authority to adopt as criteria for the grant of a licence all the conditions that must be applied for major considerations. These are,
“the number of other premises”,
with machines in the locality,
“the levels of crime and disorder”,
“social and economic deprivation in that locality, and … the proximity … to places … attended by children or other vulnerable persons”.
The industry claims that it adheres to three principles—honesty, keeping crime low and protecting the vulnerable from harm. I am, to put it mildly, as is occasionally my wont, somewhat sceptical. As to honesty, premises that present themselves as betting shops designed to allow punters to pop in and lay a bet, are, in reality, increasingly devoted to these fixed terminals, which are extensively advertised and all too frequently induce customers to spend more than they originally intended. This also gives the lie to the notion that the industry is actively engaged in protecting the vulnerable. As to crime, I have already indicated the high levels of crime associated with this business. The industry makes another risible claim that it contributes to the local economy. On the contrary, it takes vast amounts of money out of economies up and down the country, which in all probability would otherwise be spent in high streets, on other useful services or in the local economy.
I hope the Minister will recognise the need for much better regulation in what many will regard as a problematic industry contributing little to, but extracting a great deal from, hard-pressed communities and often vulnerable individuals, as well as imposing unnecessary strain on services, such as the police, who have more than enough to contend with without the additional burden of dealing with crime associated with this industry. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for moving the amendment. I stand in place of my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who is unable to be here today, in support of Amendment 214, which would grant new powers to local licensing authorities in regulating gaming machines on gambling premises. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has already made clear, there is a strong case for measures that will help local authorities tackle gambling-related crime to be included in the Policing and Crime Bill.
The figures on the rise of gambling-related crime are startling. From 2014 to 2015 there was a 50% increase in the number of incidents on gambling premises that required police assistance. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans recently submitted a freedom of information request to the Metropolitan Police which found that there had been a 68% increase in the number of violent criminal offences at London betting shops between 2011-12 and 2015-16. It has recently been reported that around 40% of commercial robberies in London target betting shops.
There is likely to be a range of factors driving this increase in violence. Opportunism arising from the single staffing of betting shops is surely one of them. Another is the increasing reliance of high-street betting shops on fixed-odds betting terminals, or FOBTs. As a report from Landman Economics put it:
“It seems clear that violent behaviour in betting shops is on the increase and an increased proliferation of FOBTs—with increased numbers of players incurring losses from gambling on B2 machines—is a likely reason for this trend”.
There are countless recorded examples of so-called “FOBT rage”, in which customers destroy machines or assault staff after losing large sums of money. What is more, we know that a great number of these incidents go unreported by betting shops.
It is not just violent crime that is increasingly associated with FOBTs. In 2015, 633 instances of suspected money laundering were reported to the Gambling Commission by betting shop staff, and there is no way of knowing the full extent of the problem. Several local councils, including Hounslow, have also raised concerns that the anonymous nature of FOBTs lends itself to underage gambling. These concerns have led several local authorities to call on Her Majesty’s Government to grant them greater powers when it comes to imposing conditions on a gambling premises licence. This amendment therefore comes with the support of the Local Government Association, as well as with endorsements from the councils of Westminster, Brighton and Hove, Brent and Leeds.
The current licensing arrangements allow licensing authorities to impose a range of conditions on betting premises in order to ensure that the licensing objectives of preventing crime and protecting the vulnerable are upheld. However, licensing authorities are prevented from imposing conditions that affect the number or operational method of the gaming machines permitted under the licence.
Given that FOBTs now contribute well over 50% of the profits of high-street betting shops, that restriction seems like an outdated anomaly. Amendment 214 would either allow licensing authorities to limit the number of FOBTs permitted on a premises or allow them to impose conditions on the method of operation for gaming machines more generally—for example, by requiring account-based play or by requiring customers to confirm their identification with staff prior to play. By removing the possibility of anonymous play, not only would conditions such as these prevent money laundering and underage gambling but they would be likely to reduce the number of violent and aggressive incidents towards staff, while facilitating more effective implementation of self-exclusion.
Amendment 214 would also make it clear that licensing authorities do not have to assess licensing applications in isolation but can take into account the cumulative impact of a range of local factors in making a decision, whether they be social deprivation, local crime rates, the proximity of local schools or addiction treatment centres, or the presence of a betting shop cluster. Currently the legislation is not clear on this point, so the amendment would also provide licensing authorities with clarity and confidence about the options open to them. If Her Majesty’s Government are not willing to accept an amendment in primary legislation on this matter, I hope that they will issue clear guidance, particularly on the potential for licensing authorities to use cumulative impact assessments, through the Gambling Commission.
I should emphasise to the Committee that the amendment is not an attack on the gambling industry; it seeks only to give licensing authorities the tools they require to better enforce the existing licensing objectives. Licensing authorities would not be able to impose these conditions on a whim. They would have to show that conditions were proportionate and reasonable in protecting the licensing objectives. These new powers would make a real difference, not just in reducing crime but in protecting the vulnerable, and I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will consider them carefully.
My Lords, having put my name to this amendment, I support Amendments 214—and 214CA in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham—and endorse the argument so eloquently put forward both by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury and by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham.
We on these Benches have long advocated a reduction in the stakes of fixed-odds betting terminals—FOBTs—and the Government’s review is a welcome step, but it should not delay other forms of action to address the social harm caused by these machines. For years, local authorities of all political persuasions have implored the Government to allow them to tackle the blight on communities caused by FOBTs.
As we know, FOBTs can swallow £100 every 20 seconds, and bookmakers open multiple shops in deprived areas to facilitate as many machines as possible. There are double the number of betting shops in the 55 most deprived boroughs in England as in the 115 most affluent. This clustering of outlets significantly contributes to crime and anti-social behaviour, as both the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, mentioned.
That is why I and my colleagues back Newham and its 92 local authority supporters, representing 23 million people across the country, who have been calling for the dangerously high FOBT stakes to be reduced to £2, in line with other high street gaming machines. We hope that this will be the outcome of the belatedly announced triennial review.
FOBTs are highly addictive gaming machines, as we have heard, found in bookmakers across the country. The machines allow users to place bets of up to £100 every 20 seconds on electronic casino games. In 2015 gamblers lost £1.7 billion on FOBTs, and, as we heard from the right reverend Prelate, FOBTs now account for more than half of betting shop profits.
As we know from evidence from, for example, charities seeking to help people with gambling addiction, these machines are directly harming the young and vulnerable in our society, whom we have a duty to protect. Those who can least afford it are often losing vast sums of money. This is driving them towards mental health problems. We have even seen young men taking their own lives because of their addiction to these machines.
The impact of such losses—again, as we have heard—is leading to increased crime on Britain’s high streets. In a recent evidence session of the FOBT all-party group, Sir Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham, noted that in Newham Borough there is one police call-out to a bookmaker per day, most commonly associated with a FOBT-related incident. In 2013 one of Newham’s 84 betting shops reported 112 incidents of anti-social behaviour to enforcement teams.
To date, the measures introduced to regulate these machines have been ineffective at best. Last year the Government introduced the Gaming Machine (Circumstances of Use) (Amendment) Regulations, which were implemented on 6 April. They require FOBT customers to authorise stakes of £50 or more via account-based play or over-the-counter staff authorisation. However, a study by Landman Economics in April 2016 demonstrated that the DCMS, in its evaluation of the impact of the regulations, was unable to determine whether the regulations on the £50 stake had in fact led to an increase in player control, let alone a reduction in the number of problem gamblers. Further, the bookmakers’ own industry code of conduct was found, in a report by the Responsible Gambling Trust, to be ineffective.
Calls for the regulation of these machines have been widespread, from parliamentarians, faith groups and mental health campaigners. Apart from the questions of lowering the stakes and reducing the spin rate, do the Government accept that local authorities have inadequate planning and licensing powers to address high-stake machine gambling on their high streets, to protect the most vulnerable, to tackle crime and to address the damage to local economies?
The Prime Minister, Theresa May, raised the issue back in 2005 of the harm caused by FOBTs. More than a decade later, she finally, as Prime Minister, has the power to take action. She has the opportunity now to protect the most vulnerable from exploitation by controlling high-stakes gambling on our high streets. These amendments would be extremely valuable additions to available regulation of FOBTs. I urge the Government to accept them.
My Lords, I support Amendment 214, in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who sadly, as we know, is not able to be with us today. Noble Lords will no doubt be aware that I have spoken in previous debates outlining my concerns about category B2 gaming machines—or FOBTs, as they are more commonly known. The right reverend Prelate’s amendment is a good step in the right direction and I hope the Government will feel moved to support it.
There are clear associations between problem gambling and FOBTs that cannot be ignored. A study conducted by Orford et al showed that 26% of the days spent playing on FOBTs were attributable to problem gamblers and 23% of all time spent on FOBT machines was attributable to problem gamblers. Likewise, according to GamCare’s 2014-15 statistics, 26% of the calls to GamCare in 2014-15 were made for help with issues associated with FOBTs. Problem gambling and FOBTs go together hand-in-hand, and we have a duty to do more to help those who are struggling and the communities blighted by to the proliferation of betting shops.
On top of this, betting shops with FOBTs have also been associated with anti-social and criminal activity on local high streets, which has also been mentioned. A 68% increase in violent criminal offences at betting shops between 2011-12 and 2015-16, identified in an FoI request made by the right reverend Prelate to the Metropolitan Police is simply not good enough. We must do more both to protect employees, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, seeks to do with Amendment 214CA, and to safeguard communities. Those stories which make national headlines—punters smashing up machines in betting shops after losing significant amounts of money—only scratch the surface of what is experienced by employees and communities on a daily basis.
In approaching this amendment, which is about the licensing regime for FOBTs, it is important to say a word about the history of the licensing of betting shops. In 2001, the then Government’s Gambling Review Report concluded that the system at the time—of considering likely demand for gambling provision when issuing premises licences—had the effect of stifling competition and allowing larger firms to monopolise control of the gambling market. The subsequent Gambling Act 2005, which came into effect on 1 September 2007, abolished the so-called demand test, replacing it with an “aim to permit” clause. This effectively placed local authorities in a situation where, on receipt of an application, their starting point had to be to look for a reason not to grant it, rather than to consider a reason to grant the application. The burden shifted to consideration of commercial interest first, rather than consideration of the impact on the consumer and the community.
Indeed, in evidence supplied to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee for its 2012 report, The Gambling Act 2005: A Bet Worth Taking?, the London Borough of Haringey said there now seemed to be,
“almost no restriction on how many gambling premises”,
could operate in an area. Local authorities need help, therefore I particularly welcome Amendment 214, which would add a new Section 172A to the Gambling Act 2005. Proposed new subsection (5) would allow licensing authorities to take account of factors beyond simple commercial interest, such as proximity to schools, addiction centres or even existing betting shops.
With betting shops allowed four FOBT machines in one shop, there is clearly an advantage to opening several shops in an area to maximise revenue. Bookmakers made £1.7 billon on gaming machines between October 2014 and September 2015, of which category B2 machines —FOBTs—accounted for 99.7%. I reference page 1 of Ladbrokes’ own 2014 annual report, which has been mentioned. In Ladbrokes’ own words:
“Gaming machines and self service betting terminals drive growth”.
Proposed new Sections 172A(1) and 172A(2) provide sensible solutions by allowing licensing authorities to impose conditions on gambling premises, permitting them to have as few as zero FOBTs. They also allow licensing authorities to impose conditions requiring customer identification prior to play in an effort to address FOBT-related crime. The situation with FOBTs has been allowed to get out of hand and it is time the Government took a firmer grasp of it. Reducing the prevalence of harmful machines is a good thing and will make an important difference, but we can and should do even more, and I welcome the recent call for evidence issued by the Government on aspects of the gambling industry, including FOBTs.
I am also encouraged by the focus on reviewing stakes, which for B2 machines are far too high. Making machines less dangerous by reducing the B2 stake from £100 to £2, as the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, sought to do, should be our priority. I certainly will continue to advocate for such a change.
I strongly endorse Amendment 214, which represents a tangible opportunity for positive change which can be implemented now to help problem gamblers and their families, as well as communities and employees. I very much hope the Minister will support the amendment, as I, and clearly many Members in this Chamber, do.
My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 214 I should declare two interests. First, I ran a chain of casinos in the Mediterranean at an earlier stage of my life, and I am therefore very familiar with the function of a roulette wheel. Secondly, I was chairman of the Jockey Club’s racing interests in the UK, so I was heavily dependent upon the profits coming from the bookmakers’ levy.
The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, was tabled several months ago and I am sorry that it has not gone further. In many ways, it is, as an entity, better than this amendment, and the Minister should give serious consideration to incorporating it into the Bill.
The points I need to make relate to the deep suspicions I raised at Second Reading about the honesty of the electronic roulette wheel in the FOBTs in reflecting the function of a roulette wheel, as I know it to be. I have probably done more analysis on this than anyone alive today, and I would like to do a lot more. I suspect two things are wrong with the wheels at present. First, they do not fulfil either of the two functions which I require as a standard for any honest roulette wheel. An honest wheel should result in 28 different numbers occurring in any sequence of 40 spins—that statistic is astonishingly accurate—and every number on the wheel should come up within a maximum of 121 spins. I have tested these theories over thousands and thousands of spins. For example, I tested the latter over sequences as high as 4,400 and found that there were 44 occasions on which each number came up a minimum of once, which confirms that theory.
As for the former theory, I cannot remember the name but I think it was the Gambling Commission that set up the original licensing arrangements for casinos years ago. It was an extraordinary commission because it went to the extent of installing a roulette wheel in its meeting room and having two croupiers spinning it all day long to observe what happened. As a result, it laid down very strict rules for roulette wheels. I can see no reason whatever why bookmakers should not accept the validity of the same rules for their electronic machines as for the metal and wood wheels in casinos. As things are, they produce very different results.
As a result of my criticisms, two days after our last debate I got a very angry letter from the bookmakers’ association. It said that I was a liar telling an untruth, was wholly wrong and was being offensive. I said, “I may be offensive but can you prove that I am wrong on the matters of fact? I want you to prove to me that you have a 28-number cycle in every 40 spins and that your whole wheel comes up in 121 spins. If you can’t prove that, then you are in fact dishonest in what you present as a functioning electronic roulette wheel”.
I do not believe they can do that but I would like the support of Parliament for this: I want them to give me a 5,000-number sequence for every electronic computer programme that they are running—and they have lots of them, as we have heard. They have so many different terminals that they cannot allow one programme to run so as to establish a pattern, because you could adapt the pattern from one and go and bet on it. You might be able to switch it down to your advantage and they will not do that. If they have six different betting shops, they will have six different programmes and I want those programmes to be subject to audit. I would like to audit them by matching with my own matrix, which I have developed. If they can give me 5,000-spin sequences certified by an accountant or a lawyer, it will take me six hours to say whether they have an honest wheel or not. I will do that for free for the whole industry, if it wants. If your Lordships think it sounds as though I need to get a life, you are probably right but I am obsessed with these numbers and I would love to do it.
In this case, I am so certain that it is wrong that after the previous debate I went on a betting shop crawl in Chichester, my nearest local town. I went round each of the main betting shops in it and sat down to watch what was happening on the electronic wheel. The first one that I watched was simply frightening. The man who had switched the machine on appeared to have £100 in folding money, well concealed in his pocket. He was pulling it out one £20 note at a time and feeding it in to charge it up. He had decided to bet on five numbers: 32, 15, 19, four and 21. These are the five numbers adjacent and to the immediate right of zero on the wheel. Effectively he should have had a six to one chance, as it is five numbers out of 37, but of course he was having to put a £1 chip on each of the five numbers. If he won, he got only £1 back for it and lost £4, so he was actually betting at 5.2 to one against in real odds. He would have had to have six successive win spins in a row just to break even on his £100—an impossible characteristic—yet the man was sitting down to give away £100, without any possible benefit coming to him.
The betting shop quickly moved in and asked me what I was doing. I said that I was doing social studies and I was told, “You don’t do them here—get out”. So I went off to the next betting shop and lasted about five minutes there as well. Eventually I went to six shops. What I found was a horrendous change that has occurred since the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, brought his excellent Bill in. The spin cycle we were worrying about then was running at, I think, two minutes; it has now gone to 10 seconds. This is so fast that you cannot even think what your name is, let alone what you are betting on. At 10 seconds a spin, it is simply draining a man of money without any way of him knowing what he is doing. My great proposal to your Lordships today is: whatever we do with this clause or with the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, we should write in a demand to go back to a minimum of two or three minutes, or whatever it was to be. Any betting shop which does not do that should be summarily closed and will not be allowed to open until they have demonstrated the accuracy of their data in the form that I have dictated. They would be closed until further notice.
However, what I think is happening is that the bookmakers read our Hansard and decided to make a firm commitment to a betting cycle which would be better than the figure they were allowing. They have therefore decided to cut it to 10 seconds now, so that they will have more to negotiate and give away when the crunch comes. Let us put it in now and start closing them. We should get some authority in to stop this nonsense. Wherever there is a 10-second cycle going on in a betting shop, close it down now. We should do it urgently and make an example of them. I rest my case.
My Lords, I shall take a slightly different approach from that of the noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde, and just say—I am sorry, I meant the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath; I am reading the wrong name on the annunciator. I do apologise. I do not know how the Minister can sit here hour after hour and hear the overwhelming evidence of the damage that these machines are causing and not do anything about it. This is an opportunity to do something about it. The Minister should grab it with both hands.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord James of Blackheath, for his contribution. I do not go into betting shops, but he has confirmed that I have only a marginally smaller chance of winning than those who do. My noble friend Lord Beecham and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury in particular have already set out the background to and concerns behind this group of amendments: concerns about the increase in reported criminal offences linked to betting shops, which has coincided with the proliferation of fixed-odds betting terminals. These criminal offences relate both to violence towards staff and to damage to property arising from losses incurred from gambling on these terminals.
There is a link between the use of fixed-odds betting terminals and their anonymity for user and money laundering, with one major firm fined some £800,000 by the Gambling Commission this summer over inadequate protection against money laundering. At present, licensing authorities can lay down a series of conditions on betting premises to help ensure that the licensing objectives of preventing crime and protecting the vulnerable are delivered and maintained. However, licensing authorities cannot limit the number of machines below the maximum of four per betting premise, and neither can they lay down requirements for the operation of gaming machines including fixed-odds betting terminals.
This group of amendments would, among other things, achieve these objectives by allowing licensing authorities to place conditions which could limit the number of fixed-odds betting terminals permitted under a gambling premises licence. Fixed-odds betting terminals now contribute, as I understand it, well over 50% of the profits of high street betting shops. These amendments would also allow licensing authorities to place conditions on gambling premises which would restrict the operation of gaming machines including fixed-odds betting terminals to people who have established their identity with the gambling premises concerned. This would assist in addressing money laundering and also help to reduce the incidence of violent disorders, including aggression towards staff, and the risk of under-age gambling. In both instances the licensing authority would have to show why these conditions were necessary to ensure that the licensing objectives to which I have already referred were delivered.
A further amendment in this group would also mean that licensing authorities did not have to determine each licence application in isolation. Instead, the amendment would make it clear that such authorities could take account of the cumulative impact on a range of local factors in making a decision—factors such as social deprivation and local crime rates, the creation of a betting shop cluster and the proximity of local schools or centres for other groups of vulnerable people. Such a provision in the relevant amendment in this group would better enable licensing authorities to protect areas that they considered at real risk of gambling harm.
The purpose of these amendments—as has already been said, Amendment 214, the main amendment, has the support of the Local Government Association—is to give local authorities a much-needed wider range of measures to enforce the existing licensing objectives. I hope that the Government will respond favourably. Surely local authorities are in the best position to know what is and is not needed in their own community. They should now have the necessary powers to deliver the existing licensing objectives.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and the right reverend Prelate explained, these amendments would have the effect of devolving power over licence conditions for gaming premises and gaming machines to local authorities. The number of gaming machines authorised under a gambling premises licence is regulated by the Gambling Act 2005. Licensing authorities do not currently have the power to change this limit, and cannot impose licence conditions on gaming machines that relate to stakes or prizes. However, they do have licensing powers in respect of gambling premises. These include powers to reject an application for a licence and powers to impose other conditions, for example around opening hours. They can also review and revoke licences. The Department for Communities and Local Government also brought in new planning laws last year that ensure that applications to change, for example, a disused shop into a bookmaker’s office will need planning consent.
In looking to introduce this new clause, the right reverend Prelate is seeking to limit the number of fixed-odds betting terminals in bookmakers and casinos. The Government understand the concern that such gaming machines could fuel problem gambling and are committed to reducing the risks of potential harms associated with such machines. Indeed, last year, we introduced new regulations to ensure that players staking over £50 on these machines either had to open an account or had to interact with staff. Evaluation shows that there has been a significant decrease in players staking above £50. The Gambling Commission also introduced new social responsibility requirements last year, including measures that force customers to make an active choice on whether to set time and money limits while playing these machines.
In addition, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is seeking to enable licensing authorities to impose minimum staffing levels on premises with such machines. The noble Lord may have in mind a number of tragic incidents in high street bookmakers over the last few years. The Association of British Bookmakers’ Safe Bet Alliance provides specific guidance on staffing security in bookmakers, which was drafted with the input of the Metropolitan Police. Members of the Association of British Bookmakers operate single staffing only when a risk assessment has been undertaken.
Sections 167 and 168 of the Gambling Act 2005 empower the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to set mandatory and default conditions on premises licences via secondary legislation, which could include a condition setting staffing levels. This would be the preferred route to make such a change. In addition, I must emphasise that the Government believe that the appropriate mechanism for reviewing stakes and prizes, and gaming machine numbers, is the review announced on 24 October by the Minister responsible for gambling, which will consider these issues in a more holistic and comprehensive context.
My noble friend Lord James mentioned statistics about roulette wheels. I have to say that I got slightly lost in all the various numbers, which is not surprising considering that I was unable to add the 45 minutes when it came to the lunchtime break—but I certainly take his point and I listened with interest.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, talked about the Sustainable Communities Act. The Government are engaging with the LGA on this issue. The review announced on 24 October is the right mechanism to consider all these issues, and the Government invite Newham Council to take part in that review.
The Government are alive to the concerns about the dangers posed by fixed-odds betting terminals. As I have set out, we have already taken steps to tighten the controls on these machines and have set out our plans for the review of gaming machines, gambling advertising and social responsibility, which will include stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and other noble Lords will want to contribute to that review, and I encourage them to do so. The review will include a close look at the issue of B2 gaming machines—more commonly known as fixed-odds betting terminals—and specific concerns about the harm that they cause, be that to the player or the community in which they are located. The call for evidence period will close on 4 December, following which the Government will consider proposals based on robust evidence provided to assist in our decisions.
Given that this process is in train, I invite the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, to withdraw the amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, so far as it goes, which I fear is not very far at all. If the Government are relying on the industry to come forward with proposals, many of us would be somewhat sceptical about a satisfactory result emerging.
I am not, as some of your Lordships will be aware, an enthusiast for secondary legislation but it seems to me that it would be sensible for the Government to take the power, at least, to regulate in some of the areas we have discussed, even if they do not want to incorporate the specific details of the amendments we have been discussing today in primary legislation. It would be a wasted opportunity, it seems to me, if, as I suspect, the gaming industry will not come up with satisfactory answers to the many questions which have been raised today, to then expect a further Bill to come forward. The legislative timetable, many of us will imagine, will be dominated by things of a rather more international flavour for the next few years, whereas, giving the power to regulate on issues of the kind we have identified here would be a much simpler parliamentary process and one which is quite appropriate.
I do not think that many of us in your Lordships’ House have any great confidence in the gaming industry’s willingness to address the problems that have been identified across the House this afternoon. While at this point I will obviously not be asking the House to divide, this is a matter that I hope the Government will consider in a constructive way before Report. I would be tempted, and will discuss this with other of your Lordships, to embody in resolutions on Report a power to deal with matters as I have suggested by way of secondary legislation, but it would be better if the Government took that step. No doubt the noble Baroness will be willing to discuss this with interested Members before Report, but as matters stand I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 214 withdrawn.
Amendment 214A not moved.
214B: After Clause 122, insert the following new Clause—
“National anti-doping provisions
(1) Subsections (2) and (3) apply to—(a) all persons participating in sport in the United Kingdom who are members of a governing body of sport or an affiliate organisation or licensee of a governing body of sport, including national governing bodies of sport, regional governing bodies, sports associations, clubs, teams, associations or leagues (a “relevant body”);(b) all persons participating in such capacity in sporting events, competitions or other activities in the United Kingdom which are organised, convened, authorised or recognised by a relevant body;(c) any other person participating in sport in the United Kingdom who, by virtue of a contractual arrangement or otherwise, is subject to the jurisdiction of a relevant body for the purposes of preventing doping; and(d) any other person in the United Kingdom whether or not such a person is a citizen of, or resident in, the United Kingdom.(2) An athlete is guilty of an offence if he or she—(a) knowingly takes anywhere in the world a prohibited substance with the intention of enhancing his or her performance in any sports competition where there is a reward on offer, whether monetary or in terms of prestige, promotion or protection from relegation; or where that is one of his or her intentions; or(b) has been banned or suspended from participation in any sporting activity, or has been or is a member of any organisation which has been banned or suspended from participation in any sporting activity anywhere in the world, at any time either before or after the day on which this Act is passed; and(i) participates in any sports competition in the United Kingdom where there is a reward on offer, whether monetary or in terms of prestige, promotion or protection from relegation; and(ii) does not have a prohibited substance certificate dated not more than 14 days earlier than the date of the sports competition at the commencement of the sports competition. (3) In subsection (2) “prohibited substance certificate” means a certificate from a medical practitioner in the United Kingdom appointed by the General Medical Council for the purpose of testing athletes for prohibited substances, confirming that in the practitioner's opinion—(a) the athlete does not have any prohibited substance in his or her body, and(b) the athlete’s body does not retain any advantage in sporting performance by reason of the athlete having taken a prohibited substance at any time either before or after the day on which this Act is passed.(4) A person in the United Kingdom is guilty of an offence if he or she, with the intention of enhancing the performance of an athlete, encourages, assists or hides awareness of an athlete taking a prohibited substance with the intention of enhancing the athlete’s performance, or with that being one of the athlete’s intentions.(5) A medical professional commits an offence if, in the United Kingdom, he or she prescribes a prohibited substance to an athlete and believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the substance will be used by the athlete with the intention of enhancing his or her performance, or if the professional fails to report any approach for a prohibited substance by such an athlete to the General Medical Council.(6) A member of an organising committee is guilty of an offence if he or she has not taken all reasonable steps to ensure that all athletes permitted to compete in a World or European Championship which he or she is involved in organising, convening, or authorising—(a) have not taken a prohibited substance with the intention of enhancing their performance; and(b) have not been banned or suspended from participation in any sporting activity, or been a member of any organisation which has been banned or suspended from participation in any sporting activity anywhere in the world, during the two years prior to the World or European Championship.(7) In subsection (6), “organising committee” means a Committee established in the United Kingdom on behalf of any international federation of sport, which is recognised by the International Olympic Committee.(8) For the purposes of this section a “prohibited substance” is as defined by the World Anti-Doping Agency or such other agency as shall be designated by the Secretary of State for this purpose.(9) Any person guilty of an offence under subsection (2), (4) (5) or (6) or shall be liable—(a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both; or(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or both.(10) In order to assist with the prevention of offences under subsections (2), (4) (5) or (6), UK Anti-Doping shall discuss the following issues with the World Anti-Doping Agency annually—(a) the effectiveness of Annex I of the International Standard for Testing and Investigations (athlete whereabouts requirements) and its harmonisation with the European Convention on Human Rights;(b) the effectiveness of the international work of the World Anti-Doping Agency; and(c) progress on the development of a United Kingdom roll-out of athlete biological passports.(11) UK Anti-Doping shall submit the results of the annual discussions under subsection (7) to the Secretary of State, who shall— (a) lay before both Houses of Parliament an annual report documenting—(i) whether the athlete whereabouts requirements are effective in combating doping in the United Kingdom and are in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, and(ii) the performance of the World Anti-Doping Agency in general in relation to its effectiveness in preventing offences under subsections (2), (4) (5) or (6); and(b) determine whether the Government should remain a member of and continue to support the World Anti-Doping Agency, in the light of that effectiveness.”
My Lords, Amendment 214B is the product of some 30 years of discussions I have had with successive Governments, numerous reviews and ministerial answers, during which time many countries have now overtaken us and introduced legislation to criminalise the worst effects of doping in sport. So at least I am confident that the Minister will not be seeking more time to consider this very important subject.
I thank Her Majesty’s Opposition for the work they did in another place. My amendment follows the amendments tabled by Christina Rees, the Labour MP for Neath, who was supported on 24 April this year by Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham who said:
“People need to be able to trust that what they are seeing on the pitch, on the track or in the pool is real endeavour and not artificially enhanced. If you are using performance-enhancing drugs, you are not just cheating the other athletes but you are perpetrating a fraud against the paying public. For that reason, there is a clear case for it to be a criminal offence. We must send the strongest possible message that it will not be tolerated in sport”.
The amendments tabled today have also been actively discussed in informal conversations with the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, from the Cross Benches and the noble Lords, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, Lord Addington, and others, who have campaigned for many years on this subject. I am grateful to them for the interest they have shown and to colleagues on my side of the House for their expressed support. The Government should be in no doubt of the depth of support for these measures, both in the press and the country as a whole, not least in the wake of the banning of the Russian athletics team from the Rio Olympic Games this year.
The effect of the amendment is set out in proposed subsection (2). It seeks to deal with nothing less than fraud in sport. Those athletes who knowingly take performance-enhancing drugs from the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list with the intention of enhancing his or her performance to the detriment of the clean athlete—thus potentially denying the clean athlete selection, the prestige of winning or financial gain for professional athletes—would, if the amendment is passed, be guilty of a crime under the legislation.
The bar in the legislation has been set very high in the draft amendment, since it is intended to be principally one of deterrence. In recent years many countries, ranging from New Zealand, Austria, Italy, France, Holland and Sweden to Mexico and China, have either criminalised the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport or enacted legislation that criminalises the trafficking of such drugs. Germany is the most recent country to introduce legislation. Under its new law earlier this year, athletes found guilty of doping face fines or prison sentences of up to three years. The German Interior Minister stated:
“The law was overdue, important penal provisions now come into effect”.
“I am convinced that we can tackle doping in sport and the criminal structures behind it more effectively with this anti-doping law”.
Under the law, athletes who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs or are found guilty of possession of performance-enhancing drugs can face prison terms of up to three years. Those who provide them with the substances can face sentences of up to 10 years.
We in this country are behind the curve, and the amendment addresses fraud in sport. Sadly, the existing legislation lacks the sport-specific requirements to deal with fraud caused by doping in sport. There is no intention whatever to criminalise an athlete who simply makes a mistake—for example, innocently eating a steak that has been imported from a farm where cows were injected with steroids. The bar of proof needs to be set very high for those athletes who knowingly take a cocktail of drugs with the intention of enhancing their performance and cheating a clean athlete out of a career or out of selection.
I turn to proposed subsection (3). At present an athlete serves a ban usually for four years for a serious offence, with many serving less time. The amendment seeks to make a connection between the drugs taken and how long the benefit lasts. Where some drugs are out of the human system within a matter of days, others stay for life. For example, when taken in the teens, human growth hormone can deliver a substantial increase in height and the beneficiary is unlikely to shrink back to his original height in years to come. As a result, there is a proposed requirement on any previously banned athlete to provide a certificate from a medical practitioner in the UK, appointed by the General Medical Council for the purpose of testing athletes for prohibited substances, confirming that the athlete no longer has the prohibited substance in his or her body and that their body does not retain any advantage in sporting performance by reason of the athlete having taken a prohibited substance in the past.
It has been the press, not our own or indeed the world anti-doping agencies, who have led the way on this subject, and they should be congratulated. That position should be reversed, though; it should be the anti-doping agencies that lead the way. Earlier this year the Sunday Times led a campaign to empower the United Kingdom Anti-Doping agency, in the light of its lack of sanctions, to deal with a certain Dr Bonar, who is alleged to have provided performance-enhancing drugs to dozens of British athletes. Under current legislation, UKAD has no powers to deal with any doctors unless they are affiliated with a British governing body of sport. My amendment would work to ensure that a medical professional would commit an offence if he or she prescribed a prohibited substance to any athlete with the intention of enhancing that athlete’s performance in contravention of the World Anti-Doping Agency. In framing legislation, it is as important to address the athlete as it is the entourage that supplies them.
It is proposed that the UK organising committee of any European or world championship has to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the athletes it accepts through the entry process, which is mandated as part of its function by the international federation, are clean. This is important in the context of the Russian athletics team, which was banned from Rio as a team but among which there were few athletes who had individually tested positive. At present there is nothing to stop that team being reaccepted into the International Amateur Athletic Federation and competing next year in the world championships to be held here in London. The amendment would put an onus on the UK organising committee members to work with the anti-doping agency to ensure that no international drug cheats came to London to compete in the world athletics championships without demonstrating that they were clean. I then have two sections that address the relationship between UKAD and the World Anti-Doping Agency and their accountability here in Parliament.
In summary, there is no redemption for the clean athlete denied selection or winnings by a competitor who knowingly cheats. What is worse, the cheat with a chance of a long-lasting benefit derived from performance-enhancing drugs knowingly shreds the dreams of clean athletes with every needle that they inject. The director-general of the World Anti-Doping Agency reflected last year:
“I want to pose the question: should doping be a criminal matter? It is in Italy, and we think—some of us—that the real deterrent that cheating athletes fear is the fear of going to prison, not the fear of being stood down from their sport for a year, two years, four years, but a fear of going to prison”.
He is right. Over the years, many British Olympic athletes—and I declare my interest of not only having competed in two Olympic Games, but having had the privilege of being the Chairman of the British Olympic Association during Beijing and London—have taken a firm and uncompromising stance that those guilty of cheating should never again be selected to represent their country. These amendments go nowhere near as far as that objective, but they signal a clear intention to clean athletes that Parliament will act and will act now.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has explained the purpose of this amendment and the extent of its provisions. It is a very timely amendment: the Olympic Games in Rio were overshadowed by doping scandals. Russia was banned from the Paralympics, but did not receive a blanket ban from the main Olympics, despite the state-sponsored doping that had been exposed.
Now, a recent report from the World Anti-Doping Agency independent observers has highlighted failings in the anti-doping checks and procedures at Rio, which the report indicates put an almost unmanageable strain on drug testing during the Olympics. The result was that on Sundays, up to half of all drug tests did not take place because athletes could not be found at the athletes’ village or competition venues due to lack of support, training and information given to chaperones, whose job it was to notify athletes of testing.
Apart from management failings, the report also blamed the failings on budget and operational cutbacks. About 500 fewer drug tests were carried out at Rio than were planned, albeit failing a drugs test at the Games themselves suggests a competitor or their aides who are not particularly conversant with the ways of covering up the taking of drugs. In addition, more than a third of athletes competing in Rio were not subject to drugs testing before the Games in 2016, and of these, nearly 200 were competing in one of the 10 high- risk sports. Despite this report, the International Olympic Committee stated a day later that the report showed that it had been a successful Olympic Games with a successful anti-doping programme.
Doping issues are not, of course, confined to the Olympic Games. The Tour de France has not exactly been immune from them, and neither has tennis or football in this country, to give just three other examples. I suspect that most of us, including, not least, myself, just do not appreciate the full extent and breadth of prohibited substance-taking across different sports.
Prohibited substances, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has said, are taken to gain an advantage in sport over fellow competitors. They are taken to produce a false result which is not determined purely and solely by the skill and unaided effort of each competitor. That false result will at the very least be influenced—and at the worst determined—by the taking of a substance that improves performance unrelated to the skill or effort of the competitor concerned. It is a form of fraud. It is cheating—cheating not just fellow competitors but the public who paid to come watch the sporting event in the belief that they would see a fair competition with competitors competing on a level playing field.
The purpose of the amendment is, through a series of measures—including the creation, as in some other countries, of a criminal offence carrying, in exceptional circumstances, a custodial sentence—to throttle the deliberate and intentional use of drugs in sport by any person in this country or by any person in this country who,
“knowingly takes anywhere in the world a prohibited substance with the intention of enhancing his or her performance”;
or by any person, deliberately and intentionally, among other things, providing or administering to an athlete prohibited substances with a view to enhancing the performance of that athlete. The amendment also lays a responsibility on an organising committee.
The amendment would also require the Secretary of State to submit an annual report to Parliament which would include documenting the performance of the World Anti-Doping Agency in general in its effectiveness in preventing the offences provided for in the amendment, together with a requirement on the Secretary of State to determine whether the Government should remain a member of and continue to support the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The events before and during the Rio Olympics and the ever-increasing range of sports apparently affected by the use of prohibited substances suggest that doping in sport, including state-sponsored doping, is still not being taken sufficiently seriously by those at the most senior level who are in a position to stamp it out. The amendment is intended to toughen up our approach in this country to the serious problem of doping, including by people from this country competing, or assisting those competing, elsewhere in the world. We most certainly support it and hope that it will find favour with the Government.
I support the amendment. I cannot claim to be an expert on sport, but my noble friend Lord Moynihan most certainly is. His sporting legacy to this country is extraordinary, not least the performance of our team in the London Olympics, which was engineered by his work as chairman of the British Olympic Association, but also the extraordinary performance of our team in Rio. At first glance, the amendment appeared to be radical but, having heard the argument, I understand that we are lagging behind on this important front. That is not the right position for this great sporting nation to be in.
Beyond that, I fear that by not taking strong action against the use of drugs in sport, we are sending the wrong message to our youngsters, who look on sport as a career opportunity and wonderful thing, and to those who play sport as their great heroes. If people are banned from sport for a year or two and then come back, that seems to be acceptable. A prison sentence would be in a different league. That would send a message to our youngsters that this is something that they should not tolerate, and certainly not toy with. That is a very important message for this House to send. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, I do not claim to be an expert in or have anything much to do with sport under most circumstances, but the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, is extremely important. This is about the confidence of the public and the importance to them of feeling that the sporting events they watch or participate in are genuine and not distorted in the way described. It therefore sends a powerful signal and if it indeed brings us back into line with other countries around the world, it is an extremely important thing for us to be doing.
My question—the noble Lord may have answered it in his remarks but if so I did not catch it—is: how broad are the sporting activities which the amendment covers? He talked about international sporting events, and we all have memories of what happened in the recent Olympics, in particular with the Russian team. However, as I understand it, the amendment covers all competitive organised sporting events where they are subject to a governing body. I should be grateful for that clarification and the extent to which it extends right the way through, because the governing bodies of the sports of which I have some knowledge are increasingly seeking not only to arrange the high-profile events but to encourage more people to participate at a lower level in local, regional or county events. It may be less likely that performance-enhancing drugs are used in those environments. However, I assume that this legislation is intended to pick up on those issues as well. It would be helpful if we had that clarity because it is important for people to have confidence in all sporting activities in this country, not just those at the highest level.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Moynihan for raising the important issue of tackling doping in sport.
This has been a difficult year for sport and those fighting doping—namely, the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee. We must recognise that these are global issues that cannot be solved by legislative action in any one country, although we must play our part. We are not complacent and continue to do all we can to protect the integrity of sport in this country, particularly where there is strong evidence that calls for government intervention.
As my noble friend mentioned, the Sunday Times allegations against UK Anti-Doping were disappointing to read. UK Anti-Doping immediately launched an independent investigation, the outcome of which recommended a number of actions to be implemented, all of which have been accepted by that organisation. Such action reflects the tough stance that the Government and UK Anti-Doping take on doping in the fight to provide a level playing field for our athletes to compete on.
My noble friend raises a valid point in saying that those athletes who dope are defrauding our clean athletes. We recognise that the desire to dope can be driven financially, and financial penalties are likely to be as damaging to those who cheat as a ban would be. However, the Government believe that rather than tackling this through legislation, it should be a matter for sports bodies. We recognise that a sanction in this regard could well act as a strong deterrent to doping cheats who represent the UK or compete in our events.
The UK Government and UK Anti-Doping have a reputation for taking a tough, measured stance on doping. To maintain that, we need to ensure that there is a strong evidence base before any consideration or commitment is given to taking forward any possible legislative options. In order to have that evidence base, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is currently conducting a cross-government review of the existing anti-doping legislative framework and assessing whether stronger criminal sanctions are required. The relevant government departments and agencies, such as the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the National Crime Agency and the Serious Fraud Office, are contributing to the review. We expect the outcome of the review to be published before the end of the year.
In conclusion, I ask my noble friend to be patient for a little longer. The Government are very much alive to the issues he raised and are actively examining what more needs to be done. In fact, the Minister for Sport and Tourism, during a debate on 6 July on doping and the Olympics, said:
“The review is currently under way and, should it become clear that stronger criminal sanctions are needed, we will not hesitate to act”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/7/16; col. 365WH.]
I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all those who have participated in the debate and shall comment briefly on the questions and points that have been raised.
First, the interpretation by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, of the reach of the amendment is correct and is set out in proposed new subsection (1). There is a real problem in the perception, for example among athletes and in the world of rugby, that the time to bulk out is when they are at university age or college age so that they can move on to the professional ranks. There are serious issues of doping in sport at that age, and I believe very strongly that when this is passed, as I hope it will be at some stage in the parliamentary process, it will be a very strong deterrent to those young people not to take performance-enhancing drugs.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in a strong and comprehensive speech, focused on Rio. I would reflect on this one point about testing at the Olympic Games. If you test positive at the Olympic Games, you come into the category of the dopey dopers, because the chances are that if you are on drugs at that point, you will get caught. If you want to knowingly cheat fellow athletes out of selection, you take drugs now—in the winter months—and go to countries of the world were testing is non-existent and where you can be pretty sure you can spend four or six weeks enhancing your performance doing six circuits a day as opposed to a normal person’s three, and then retain the benefit of that muscle bank as you move into the summer season, having lost any trace of the drugs in your system. Indeed, you can take a range of drugs that act as a curtain in front of a play, reducing the chance that you will be caught as you move into the season. The huge amount of money that the World Anti-Doping Agency put into testing at the Olympic Games is effectively to catch the dopey dopers, not those who spend a lot of time and effort to enhance their performance during the winter months, and thus cheat fellow athletes out of selection.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, for her overgenerous words. She was an outstanding member of the advisory board that helped to design and implement the work that the British Olympic Association did to ensure the success of London 2012—so she is being overmodest in saying that her knowledge of the world of sport is not as great as she might like. It is outstandingly good.
I am also grateful to the Minister. I absolutely agree with her starting point that the World Anti-Doping Agency needs to work in tandem with individual countries, working closely together to put in place an effective legislative framework to deal with this issue. However, it is not correct to say that leaving it completely to the World Anti-Doping Agency and to the sporting bodies will solve this problem. It patently is not solving the problem, which is the reason why so many countries are now legislating. Although they need to legislate in harmony, reflecting their own national interest, they have to legislate together, which is exactly what they are doing. In framing the legislation today, I have taken the example of the Germans, the Italians and the Dutch, who have focused on the fact that it is not just the athlete but the entourage who need to be criminalised. The deterrent effect in those countries of putting legislation on to the statute books has already been very effective.
Finally, on the end-of-year review, I said at the outset that I have been working on this since the Copenhagen declaration exactly 30 years ago, since when there have been so many reviews that it would take me a while to go through them all on Google. However, I always welcome further research and reflections from the Government. I note that they talk about the end of the year, which seems to be very close to our consideration of this legislation on Report. I therefore urge the Minister to see whether the review can be completed in time for Report so that we can take it into consideration. Even if it cannot, I would very much hope that, on Report, we can reflect on what my noble friend the Minister has said, as well as on the speeches made today from both sides of the House. We can then see whether we should send a legislative framework down to the Commons, so that in the new year, which is the likely date, Members can take into account the review to which the Minister alluded and, if necessary, amend the legislation at that point. We can consider any further amendments.
I believe there is widespread support for this provision both inside and outside the House and across parties. I very much hope this work will continue between now and Report, with further consideration on Report. In the light of that, and with my thanks to the Minister for her speech, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 214B (in substitution for Amendment 213) withdrawn.
214C: After Clause 122, insert the following new Clause—
“Prescribed limit of alcohol
(1) In section 11(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (interpretation of sections 4 to 10), the definition of “the prescribed limit” is amended as follows.(2) For paragraph (a) substitute—“(a) 22 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath,”.(3) For paragraph (b) substitute—“(b) 50 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, or”.(4) For paragraph (c) substitute—“(c) “67 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of urine,”.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 214C, I shall speak also to Amendment 214CB, both of which relate to drink-driving law. Let us imagine a world where you can pop to your GP and get a prescription for cocaine. If you want to lose weight, you not only have the choice of the 5:2 or the Atkins diet, but amphetamines are also prescribed by your doctor. On television there are advertisements of the health benefits of smoking cigarettes. Welcome to the United Kingdom in 1956, the year in which we set the level of alcohol you can have in your body and still drive legally. The law in England and Wales has remained unchanged since then. I hope these brief examples show how the greater understanding of the effect of drugs in the human body has changed laws in these areas and that we are well overdue a change to the drink-drive law.
I note at the outset that our law applies to all drivers: HGVs, taxis and bus drivers. For everyone, it is 80 milligrams in 100 millilitres of blood. Although for many years deaths and injuries caused by drink-driving have fallen, this is due to strong enforcement and other factors. In 1956, most cars did not even have brake discs, let alone servo-assisted brakes. You did not have to wear a seatbelt and airbags were still the stuff of fantasies. Your Lordships just have to cast your mind back to the series “Heartbeat”, and think of what the emergency services looked like then—the arched top of the ambulance, the canvas stretchers, the siren. There were no air ambulances, no fire crews cutting open the roof of your car, no fluids at the scene, no heart surgery by cracking open the chest at the roadside and there were no breathalysers at the roadside either.
We have much to be thankful for today. The police do a great job of enforcement, but they want the limit changed and it is high time we listened to them. Changing human behaviour, which changes in the law can bring about, is much more effective and cheaper in terms of human lives—most importantly—as well as financially, than relying on enforcing the law.
All other European countries have the lower limit outlined in Amendment 214C of 50 milligrams or below. All other common-law jurisdictions that I can find have done so as well. England and Wales stands alone. Scotland has changed the law to 50 milligrams and, as of 1 January of next year, Northern Ireland will have as well.
I have not owned a car for 10 years. I am an occasional driver and I am thankful that I have no direct personal experience of drink-driving accidents affecting my family. I am looking at this evidence as a lawyer and I am concerned that deaths from drink-driving have been static since 2010. We need something to prompt a further decline.
I note briefly three pieces of evidence that illustrate that these amendments are part of the answer. First, on reviewing all the available evidence, NICE in 2010 concluded:
“There is sufficiently strong evidence to indicate that lowering the BAC limit changes the drink-driving behaviour of all drivers at all BAC levels”.
The arguments here do not only revolve around those drivers who would fall within the new limit—those between 50 milligrams and 80 milligrams. This change is about all drivers and reducing drink-driving at all levels.
I have to stop here to note that only last night two teenagers lost their lives in Aldershot and a serving soldier has been arrested on suspicion of drunk-driving. This is about affecting the behaviour of all drivers in relation to alcohol. On the specific limit that is outlined in the amendment of 50 milligrams, the NICE report quotes a scientific review that states:
“Lowering the BAC level from 0.8 to 0.5 is effective”.
Secondly, on that specific reduction to 50 milligrams, which is something that Switzerland did in 2005, there was then a reduction in the number of those injured in alcohol-related crashes, according to the Swiss Council on Accident Prevention.
Thirdly and finally, 13% of all those who were breathalysed in 2014 in the UK following any road traffic collision were between the 50 milligram limit in the amendment and the current 80 milligram limit. In 40% of fatal accidents, the driver has alcohol in their system below the current legal limit of 80 milligrams. Around 240 families each year lose someone due to drink-driving.
We know that alcohol affects people’s driving. We have to think of how many collisions would be avoided completely if we reduced the limit. There is a roll call of organisations that are supporting the lowering the limit. These include the RAC, the RAC Foundation, the AA, Brake, the Institute of Advanced Motorists, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, the Police Federation, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, the College of Paramedics, the Fire Brigades Union, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal Society for Public Health, the Alcohol Health Alliance and the Institute of Alcohol Studies. In fact, I not aware of a single similar organisation that is against reducing the drink-driving limit after 60 years.
Amendment 214C mirrors the law in Northern Ireland and would reduce the limit further to 20 milligrams for those who hold a provisional licence, those who have a full licence but have had it for fewer than two years, and, importantly, for those who drive professionally. It accords with the previous change in the law for probationary drivers that the Government have introduced, who can now accumulate only six penalty points, not 12, before losing their licence in the first two years they have a full licence. It has been recognised that there are clearly specific risks during that probationary period of driving such that the lower level of points is permitted. However, we need a lower level of alcohol during that period to embed the best behaviour.
I am grateful that my noble friend the Minister took the time to meet interested Peers, even before today’s Committee stage, and hope that we will receive a favourable response from her today. However, there is one final matter to consider carefully. This issue has come late to the Bill. Organisations such as those I have mentioned stand ready to try to mobilise the Commons, even at this late stage. The key factor in any such approach is those who have had direct experience of this issue—perhaps a relative killed by a driver who had 63 milligrams of alcohol in his or her blood. Some relatives will ignore the calls from these groups to see their MP and speak to the press. Some will feel that they want just to grieve in peace and quiet. Others will feel that coming forward is cathartic and helps them to do something to prevent anyone else suffering as they have. However, some will just want to be left alone and not have the burden of even considering whether they should come forward at the request of these organisations. I am instinctively uncomfortable about this reality of our politics—namely, the necessity of taking action to get things changed when there are reasonable, rational arguments for doing so, when a measure has been on the statute book for 60 years, and when Her Majesty’s Government say no. In the light of a recent American campaign, I ask my noble friend the Minister to reflect on how much better it would be for everyone, particularly victims, if there was a change without such a campaign. Do we really need to conduct our politics like this all the time? I do not think so. I await my noble friend’s reply. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, on tabling such a moderate amendment. I would have pushed for a much stronger lower limit. It is absolutely irresponsible for anybody to get into a car once they have had a drink. Here in Britain we have one of the highest limits in Europe. Some EU nations have completely banned drinking alcohol before getting into a car. Personally, that is what I would like to see.
The new limit would be equivalent to a pint of beer or a large glass of wine for a man and half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine for a woman. I argue that even that relatively small amount of alcohol affects your ability to drive. It reduces one’s inhibitions and perhaps one’s ability to speak clearly. If you drink that amount and then get into a car, you are making that car a dangerous weapon. I do not understand why it is acceptable to get into a car and then be likely to, or have the possibility, to injure or even kill somebody. Drink-driving led to 240 fatalities and more than 1,000 serious injuries in 2014, the last year for which we have figures. It is unreasonable to accept this number of deaths and injuries in our society. We should aim for zero deaths. The reason that so many drivers do not get killed any more is simply because of better medical practices. Help is given to them sooner and so they are more likely to kill or injure people outside their vehicle—pedestrians and cyclists.
We accept road deaths far too easily. I talk to people who say, “It just happens”, but it should not happen. Every death costs society over £2 million. That means every taxpayer pays for you getting into your car and going off and killing somebody. The £2 million cost is for social services, emergency services and medical services. We allow this ridiculous sum to happen on a regular basis.
We have not had the results of the Scottish trial yet, but Police Scotland said that in the nine months after the drink-drive limit was reduced in December 2014, the number of offences fell by 12.5%. That means people have been saved—they have not died or been seriously injured. There is also evidence that it has changed social attitudes. A December 2015 survey suggested that 82% of Scots now believe that drinking any alcohol before driving is unacceptable. That is the sort of thing that we should expect here in England as well. It is time to update this ridiculous figure, which allows somebody who has drunk far too much to be competent to get into a vehicle and be dangerous on our roads.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for bringing this amendment. I have long form on this one. I first chaired an EU sub-committee in 2001 that recommended we should fall in line with what was happening in Europe and go down to 50. I moved a Private Member’s Bill—this year or last year, I forget—that ended up going through Committee stage and everything. It cleared the Lords so your Lordships, I hope, have not changed your minds and are still in favour of this—as on the previous occasion when an amendment was tabled. However, there was no shift from the Government.
The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, raised a very interesting point about how we come here with evidence and everybody seeks the change, yet the change does not take place and the deaths continue. She mentioned that there has been a plateau in the number of deaths. There was a decline from 2000 to 2010 but there has been little shift, other than last year when it went marginally up. When I concluded my last contribution on this I forecast—I cannot remember the number—the number of deaths that would take place over 2015, 2016 and 2017. In fact, I think I probably underforecast because of the rise last year.
The simple reason for that is that the Government do not have any initiatives of any importance that are going to change the course of events. It is bits and tiny pieces here and there when we should be looking at the policy that has been proven to work in Scotland. We ended up with the Minister last time saying he would have conversations in Scotland. The Minister for Transport at the other end also said that he would have conversations in Scotland and look at the evidence there, but I have had no further reports from the people I know on the outturn of those conversations and I do not even know if they have been held.
Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to advise us on what is coming out of Scotland. The initial evidence there was certainly compelling enough to indicate that the change was working and that it had effected a cultural change—people were not even driving the following day. One of the problems you get with drink-driving is that people still drive the following morning when they are intoxicated. That had changed in Scotland to a fair extent. I hope it is being maintained.
I hope the Government are taking this seriously and that at some stage we are going to get a lower limit—even Malta, the last remaining European country with a higher limit, is committed to fall in line down to 50; we alone remain. Ireland has changed. Northern Ireland is changing. Wales wants to change. Yet England alone holds out, wanting to be convinced. The evidence of the deaths is there and it is time we did something about it.
My Lords, I wonder whether the Committee will permit me to speak even though I did not hear the start of my noble friend’s speech—for which I sincerely apologise to the Committee.
I am disappointed that some time ago I tabled a Written Question, to be answered by my noble friend Lord Ahmad for the Department for Transport, asking when we expected to get useful statistics from the experience of Scotland. Although noble Lords have pointed to positive changes in compliance in Scotland, we really need to see from Scotland figures relating to the number of drivers who are far in excess of the legal limit. The statistics for England are very interesting—I found them compelling when I had to answer on this issue at the Dispatch Box. If the Minister cannot tell me now, perhaps she can write to the Committee, but I should like to know when we will get useful statistics from the Scottish experience. That will be very important in informing the Government’s decision on whether we should go to 50 or remain at 80. It is the persistent, unregulated drinkers who have very serious accidents—but without the statistics from Scotland I think we would be making a premature decision.
What does the noble Earl mean by “serious accidents”? People are being killed and seriously injured by those who have had a drink. A lot of the time those accidents are caused by people who have had far too much to drink but sometimes they are caused by people who have had a small amount to drink—but their faculties and ability to drive are lessened. So it is not just a question of drinking a lot; it is a question of drinking at all.
My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness. Any alcohol whatever will to some extent cause a reduction in driving capability and increase the risk of having an accident. I am saying that we need to be careful and take advantage of a full range of statistics from the Scottish experience. I was disappointed with the Department for Transport because it could not tell me at what point it thought it would get useful statistics from Scotland.
My Lords, I am generally supportive of the amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge. From my recollection of what she said, there was evidence of people involved in accidents who were not above the current legal limit but were above the proposed limit, and therefore there was some evidence that reducing the drink-driving limit would be beneficial. Am I wrong?
If I remember correctly from the statistics provided by the Minister at the meeting, 3% of the fatalities are occurring within the 50 to 80 milligram limit. So there will be fewer deaths and correspondingly fewer injuries if we reduce the limit. There is then the added effect—and thus, one hopes, an exponential benefit—of changing everybody’s behaviour in relation to alcohol.