HC Deb 15 January 1993 vol 216 cc1232-6 2.10 pm
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time.

I am sorry to say that we have nearly run out of time. I shall therefore give the shortest possible introduction to the Bill, in the hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will do his best in the remaining few minutes to state the Government's case regarding its provisions.

I introduced the Licensed Premises (Exclusion of Certain Persons) Act 1980—known by publicans as the "Ban the Thugs Bill"—in an endeavour to control unruly villains by excluding them from the pub in which they had misbehaved for a period of, say, one year. The idea was that, if they went into the same pub while the exclusion order was in force, they could be removed by the police.

I am afraid that, for a number of reasons, the implementation of the Act broke down. It was not mandatory on the magistrates—apparently the same probably applies in this case—to use an exclusion order. Although magistrates clerks would have had the information, magistrates themselves apparently lacked it, and there was certainly no overwhelming attempt by the courts to serve exclusion orders. A certain amount of extra paperwork was involved. There was also the question of identification of the person who had been excluded and, if he attended the public house again, of the additional effort that had to be put in by the police to expel or—if he was violent—arrest him.

In 1980, it seemed that the original Act was sufficient, but I am afraid that we have now moved into more violent times. Every day we read in our newspapers of publicans, their staff and their other customers landing in the middle of a fracas simply because the people responsible are uncontrolled.

Perhaps I should tell the House at this point that the National Licensed Victuallers Association is no longer a national organisation. Since the end of 1992 its membership has reverted to regional bodies. That will make it even more difficult for the Home Office to introduce further legislation affecting the vast number of licensed victuallers.

The Bill was drafted hastily. The then NLVA ran out of money to pay the drafting solicitor so I was put in the difficult position of having to try to complete, with the minimum of help, what had already been started. I know that I may not measure up to the high standards of the Home Office in these matters. Nevertheless, the Home Office has kindly said in a letter to me that it will make it possible to send a reminder to the courts, though not anything that will create a priority—

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hill

I am sorry, but time is too short. The Home Office would send a circular to make the courts aware of what was already enacted in 1980 with regard to the identification of those who had been excluded from public houses. I understand that the police and the licensed trade are already co-operating with the courts.

At one time there was a fear that there would be a sort of rogues gallery in every pub. That was not my intention. I wanted the photographs, if any, to be put in the staff room or private part of the public house. In that way the public house would not become a rogues gallery.

On the question of where we go from here, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will tell me shortly. I am worried about an article in Justice of the Peace on 27 January 1990 which gave the impression that the 1980 Act was ineffective. I am not sure that that is so. I know that the Lord Chancellor's Department finds it difficult to keep up-to-date figures on the number of exclusion orders which have been issued. Certainly, the emphasis is that, once a magistrate knows about his ability to serve an exclusion order, he is only too delighted to do so because some of the cases that come before the courts are horrifying.

Having said very little, I rely on the sympathy of the House to ensure that the subject does not simply die. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will help me with that.

2.17 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Wardle)

At the outset, I thank my hon. Friend for his clear, helpful and succinct explanation of the background to his Bill and what it seeks to achieve. My hon. Friend is a distinguished parliamentarian and a friend of long standing of the licensed trade. He has made a distinguished contribution to that sector of the economy for many years.

My hon. Friend explained that his purpose in introducing the Bill is to make a number of amendments that have been requested by his friends in the licensed trade and which he and they consider would strengthen the existing provisions of the Licensed Premises (Exclusion of Certain Persons) Act 1980. He also seeks to make it a more effective response to the problem of violence on licensed premises.

The 1980 Act, which my hon. Friend played such a significant part in placing on the statute book, gives the courts a particular power to use against anyone convicted of a criminal offence which occurred on licensed premises and involved the use, threat or offer of violence. At its discretion, and in addition to any other sentence it imposes, a court may make an order prohibiting such an offender from entering any licensed premises it chooses to specify for between three months and two years without the express consent of the licensee or his staff.

A person who enters licensed premises in breach of such an order commits a fresh criminal offence which is punishable by a fine of up to £1,000 or imprisonment of up to a month, or both. A licensee is entitled to expel such a person from his premises and may demand the assistance of the police to do so.

I turn now to the detailed provisions of my hon. Friend's Bill. Clause 1 requires a court to consider making an exclusion order in all appropriate cases. It will give a court the power to provide that an exclusion order should apply to all licensed premises within a specified area—most commonly a licensing district—and make it clear that a licensee's consent to an excluded person entering his premises will be effective only if it is given in full knowledge that the person involved was the subject of an exclusion order.

Originally, it was my hon. Friend's intention that his Bill should require a court to make an exclusion order, applying at least to the premises in which the offence occurred, in every case where someone was convicted of a relevant offence. That would have been wrong in principle. It must be for the courts alone to determine whether to make an exclusion order in a specific case in the light of all the circumstances of the offence and the information pertaining to the offender. My hon. Friend is now prepared only to require the courts to consider making an exclusion order in relevant cases. However, it is unclear what that would achieve in practice. Courts are already expected to consider all the sentencing options at their disposal for a particular offence before passing sentence and they have their clerks to advise them in such matters. Therefore, the new provision seems unnecessary.

Similarly, given that the 1980 Act already places no limit on the number of premises from which a court may exclude an offender, we see no pressing need to amend the statute to provide that offenders may be excluded from all licensed premises in a designated area. Neither are we persuaded that there is any particular pressing need for the consent provision in this Bill.

My hon. Friend and his supporters have told us that not all courts appear to be readily aware of their powers under the 1980 Act and that too little use is made of it generally. I can tell the House that, to meet those concerns, we are certainly prepared to consider a fresh reminder to the courts about the 1980 Act. However, I must stress that any such advice could take the form only of a reminder of the powers that that Act gives to the courts. We cannot give the courts directions as to the sentence to impose in any particular category of case, as I know that my hon. Friend will appreciate.

The main purpose of clause 2 is to make the simple breach of an exclusion order an arrestable offence. This is objectionable in principle and disproportionate to the mischief concerned. Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the power to arrest without warrant usually exists only where the maximum penalty for an offence is five years' imprisonment or more. The present maximum custodial penalty for simple non-compliance with an exclusion order is one month's imprisonment.

The position may, of course, be different if another offence is committed at the time in question or if the offender resists expulsion. The police might then be able to arrest the offender either on account of the other offence, or for obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duty. Any breach of the peace or public nuisance could also lead to an offender being arrested.

To make a simple breach of an exclusion order an arrestable offence would also be likely, in our view, to be of limited practical value. Since there would be no grounds on which an offender could be detained once he or she had arrived at the police station, they would normally quickly be charged and bailed and thus free, if they so chose, to return to the premises concerned almost immediately— back to the pub, as it were.

My hon. Friend and his supporters also believe, I understand, that to make a simple breach of an exclusion order arrestable would also, indirectly, bring about a greater number of prosecutions for breaches of such orders. This seems to us unlikely. The decision whether to prosecute an individual ultimately rests with the independent Crown prosecution service, rather than with the police.

As for clause 4, we do not believe that primary legislation, again including powers of arrest without warrant, is necessary to establish a scheme to secure the attachment of the photographs of excluded persons to exclusion orders. We readily accept the argument that to do so would enable licensees and their staff, particularly those unconnected directly with the offence that led to the imposition of the order, better to identify any excluded persons who might enter their premises in breach of an order. But we believe that this objective can, broadly speaking, be achieved administratively and, as my hon. Friend and his supporters are aware, we have already given some consideration to the ways in which this might be done. It is a valuable point.

In this context, there is justifiable concern that any photographs which it may prove possible to provide to licensees for this purpose should be treated with due care and attention. They ought not, in our view, to be publicly displayed for all to see, including customers. We believe that the best way to tackle this issue is to bring together representatives of the police and the various licensed trade organisations to discuss drawing up a voluntary code of practice and this we intend to do. I am grateful that my hon. Friend has prompted the Government in that regard.

I recognise that most—but, I hope, not all—of what I have said will come as a disappointment to my hon. Friend and his supporters in the licensed trade. I have to tell the House, however, that successive Home Office Ministers have made clear their attitude to these particular proposals, both in letters and at meetings over a fairly long period. It is not that we in any way condone or take a soft attitude to violence on licensed premises. We view it very seriously indeed and would expect the courts to do the same. At the same time, however, we believe that the particular changes to the 1980 Act that the Bill seeks to introduce are, as I have explained to the House, either wrong in principle, simply unnecessary, or achievable by other means short of primary legislation.

2.24 pm
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)

I am grateful that I managed to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. The news that I was to address the mother of Parliaments has obviously travelled widely, as shown by the prayer cards that have been put in position for these Friday debates.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) on his success in the ballot and on bringing the Licensed Premises (Exclusion of Certain Persons) (Amendment) Bill to the House. He is a senior and respected Member and has a long success list under the private Members' Bill procedure. As he said, he was largely responsible for the Licensed Premises (Exclusion of Certain Persons) Act 1980, which the Bill seeks to amend.

I am sure that we are also grateful that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, Home Department is on the Front Bench. He stated the Government's position with his usual clarity, which was well matched by the clarity and precision of the letters that he and his staff have sent to all his Back-Bench colleagues, which is a lesson to one or two, but I shall not say which one or two.

That is the end of the good news for a few minutes because all future legislation will be subject to a little-known procedure—the Roger Knapman reduction of legislation regulations. They have not gone through the House formally but will mean that every time 10 Bills reach the stage of Royal Assent we shall have a debate to decide which Bill is the best and should proceed. In the unlikely event of a Labour Government, it will not be 10 Bills but 100; where the European Parliament is concerned, it will have to be one in 10,000, but we can usually manage that in a normal day.

The Bill has serious subject matter. I do not doubt that in some areas there is violence on licensed premises and I imagine that that is true in Stroud, Southampton and many other parts of the country.

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Test will agree that he is seeking to ensure—as we all are—that the police, publicans and everyone else is protected from violence in such circumstances. I was interested to read the article about my hon. Friend and his Bill in the Morning Advertiser on 16 December, although I am not a regular subscriber to that paper. As well as a description of the Bill, that issue contained two articles entitled, "Gun law anger" and "Pubs caught in orgy of terror". My hon. Friend therefore does the House, the public and the trade a service by introducing the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Minister has already made his views on the issues fairly clear, but I wonder whether he could agree with my first general point, that it is essentially for the courts alone to determine whether to make an exclusion order in any particular circumstance, because the circumstances of both the offence and of the offenders must vary from place to place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Test touched on two of the Bill's main amendments to the original Act. Am I right in thinking that the first amendment would require the courts to consider making an exclusion order in all relevant cases?

I look forward to studying the record because it is not yet clear to me what the new provision would achieve in practice. Am I right in thinking that the courts are already required to consider all sentencing options for an offence at their disposal before passing sentence?

Mr. Michael Stern: (Bristol, North-West)

My hon. Friend has hit on a major concern about the drafting of the Bill, however laudable its general aim. If we start to tell courts to consider one sentencing option as opposed to another in a particular case, we shall inevitably face demands from pressure groups and interested bodies to consider other sentencing options in other cases or even the same case. I speak with the experience of being married to someone who has just gone through training as a magistrate. Ultimately, the courts will be presented with so many options in so many cases that we shall negate the entire procedure.

Mr. Knapman

As my hon. Friend lives in Bristol and I do not live far away, I hope to meet his wife, but not on the conclusion of her training. The point that he makes is precisely the one that I should have wished to make—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday 29 January.