HL Deb 14 March 1979 vol 399 cc731-42

7.31 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. First, I would claim that, unlike some Bills, this one has merit, in that it is short, it is clear and it goes some way towards meeting a real need, which is to put a further check on one form of violence. Today, I think that we all accept that we live in an age of increasing violence, and we are uncertain about what we can do or ought to do. This Bill offers us a way to help—if not in a very big way, at least to help effectively.

The Bill is concerned with one problem; namely, violence or threats of violence in certain circumstances on licensed premises where such trouble can all too easily start. There have been far too many tragic instances over recent years where licensees, their staff and even their guests have been badly damaged. The Bill has the support of licensees and is in step with the resolution carried at the Trades Union Congress in 1976.

This is not a police Bill, in the sense that the police have asked for it, but it ought to make their task easier. I have said that the Bill does one thing and one thing only, and now I shall elaborate. It empowers a court, in certain circumstances, to impose an additional penalty—a suspension or an exclusion order—for a period between three months and two years, on a person convicted of an offence on such licensed premises where there was resort to violence, or threatened violence. It lays down a further penalty if that person fails to comply with such an order imposed upon him.

Some noble Lords may say that this does not go far enough, and that it should go further. They ask why this ban cannot be organised on a national basis. The problems are not so easy to deal with as some would believe. I am sure that the policing of a ban on a national scale would fail and that the analogy with the ban on drink and driving is not a fair one. We in this country have driving licences, but as yet we do not have drinking licences. My submission is that a national ban would just not be possible, and that this proposal ought to be looked at much more as a clear cut, practical first step. In the light of experience we may be able to go further, but we must avoid at all costs doing anything now which is confusing and which creates a situation that may be difficult to operate or extend later.

In this short Bill there is no question of redefining any existing offence or of reassessing the penalties set out in existing Statutes. I have already said that some will say that the Bill does not go far enough, and no doubt we shall hear more about that during the Committee stage. I have submitted that a national ban would be impossible to police. There may be a halfway solution which is practical and simple, but I am not as yet convinced that there is. Others, I expect, may say that the penalties are not big enough, but we must not be emotional about this. We must put into the Bill a scale of penalties which is in line with today's thinking and practice.

Lastly, whatever we do, we must ensure that the task of the police is made easier rather than harder, and I submit that the present Bill does this. The task of a police constable, when called by a licensee to his premises where there is a threat of trouble, can be very confusing. The troublemaker may well be a trespasser in law, but the task and responsibility of the police constable—I speak subject to correction because the Minister was a practising barrister—is limited to assisting the licensee to eject the man, using only such force as may be reasonable in the circumstances; that is, in practice at least, until he is outside on the pavement when the situation can change. This is the kind of situation which a police constable with some years of service, a mature man, can sum up much more quickly in practical terms than a man with very short service, and we must bear in mind that today the great majority of our police constables have only a very short period of service behind them.

If this Bill becomes law, the troublemaker who breaks a suspension order and enters the licensed premises from which he is excluded under the order commits an offence. Hence, a young police constable, arriving in response to a call from a licensee, will or ought to be much clearer as to his position and his responsibilities. Others may draw attention to the fact that under this Bill there is no power of arrest. That, I would submit, is in line with much of the law affecting licensed premises.

Finally, this Bill refers to Scotland as well as to England, and it is so clear in its provisions that we have not provided for a referendum. The licensees in Scotland have developed the private enterprise black list procedure much further than have the English. What we are proposing in no way conflicts with this in practice. Rather, it will encourage licensees in any district to co-operate with one another and with the police. I feel confident that not just licensees but the whole country will welcome this short Bill which, as I have said, is a step to combat increasing violence, and I am now going to ask the House to give it a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Inglewood).

7.39 p.m.


My Lords, one of the most remarkable features of this Bill is that I believe that until my noble friend got up to move its Second Reading not a word about it had ever been spoken in the other place. It is a very strange way of making law. The Lower House, we are told by certain leading Members of the Party opposite, is of such great importance that it can survive without the assistance of this House. We are told that they can get on perfectly well without us, yet a Bill, which brings into being a new penalty which is of very considerable importance and which I hope will be of considerable use, can make its way into law without a single word being spoken about it in the other place. There are about nine legislators present this evening who are able to deal with this modest but sensible Bill. I congratulate my noble friend for moving it so sensibly, so well and so clearly and for pointing out to the House how helpful its provisions can be.

For many years I was the Member of Parliament for Epsom, and I recollect that at certain times of the year, but principally in the summer, there was a very considerable invasion of that part of the country. Many of the licensees had to board up their premises. In that particular district, licensees often encountered very grave difficulties, in particular from wandering travellers who had come for the races and who caused a very great deal of trouble, either solacing themselves over their failure at the Derby or celebrating their success.

However, I think the lisensees need a considerable amount of assistance, and my noble friend is right when he speaks about the difficulty of the police constable's task when he is brought to the public house at the request of the licensee. Obviously by that time in a situation which has arisen everybody will be inflamed by drink and it will be difficult to attract the attention of witnesses or to get them to give an exact explanation of what has happened. The wretched police officer is usually presented with the situation of the licensee making the complaint, which is probably fully justified, but the person against whom the complaint is made, and his friends, indignantly denying it. Quite a difficult situation can often arise and that the Bill should produce a further penalty is useful.

As my noble friend has made clear it cannot have a very wide effect because the exclusion is limited to the particular public house and it is impossible to have a situation where a person is, so to speak, "warned off the turf" or the example which the noble Lord used of the driving licence—a national exclusion from all public houses. It would be quite impossible to police and quite ludicrous to introduce such a matter into the criminal law. But in this Bill it means that there can be an exclusion from that particular public house, and that is of use. Judging from my experience of the licensees who came to see me in Epsom when I was Member of Parliament for that constituency, I think this Bill will be welcomed because there are sometimes particular persons who are troublemakers and they can be kept away from the public house and prevented from causing further trouble there. Therefore, I think this Bill is a limited but useful measure and one which I hope all noble Lords will wish to support.

7.43 p.m.


My Lords, I am delighted to support my noble friend Lord Inglewood in this small but very important Bill at a time when there is no division between the parties on the need to combat the increasing violence. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson, stated, this is the first time that this Bill has really been discussed in Parliament. Mr. Anthony Grant, who introduced the original Bill in another place, had to choose between losing the Bill this Session or letting it rip through without discussion and acquiescing to Amendments which, in my view, sadly watered down its effect. Like other noble Lords I sincerely hope that the issues will be more thoroughly discussed and more rationally amended in your Lordships' House at Committee stage.

The British pub is envied throughout the world. Convivial, democratic and the meeting place for friends, it is controlled by professional staff upholding and administering the laws under which they are allowed to operate. It is a British institution. In certain areas, however, it is in danger of being destroyed by mindless violence and all too often the weapon is a broken bottle or glass with the raw edges thrust into the victim's face, accompanied by vicious and maiming kicks to the body. The latest figures show that there are more than three serious—and I mean serious—attacks each week on licensees or their staffs.

It is common ground, firmly expressed and condemned by the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary, that excessive drink lies at the root of many violent assaults. Equally, the right honourable gentleman, the Minister of Sport, has roundly condemned the rowdy football thugs who rampage after a match—either exulting in victory or drowning the sorrows of defeat in drink.

I will mention one case, and one only of many. It is that of Mr. Dixon of the Travellers Rest, Blythe. He, keeping the law, asked a customer to drink up because it was closing time. He was knocked down, brutally kicked and two ribs pierced his lungs and he had innumerable stitches in his mutilated face. After eight weeks in hospital and the removal of a lung, he then suffered an infected kidney and liver as a result of the damage and he could no longer work. He was unable to wear shoes, to smoke or to drink any alcohol. A very short while later Mr. Dixon died. His assailant was charged and convicted—admittedly before the death of Mr. Dixon—and he was fined £15. Several victims of pub assaults have won very substantial awards from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. But, my Lords, we want the thug to pay for his crime and not only the taxpayer.

A measure of the all-party support, as my noble friend Lord Inglewood has pointed out, is the 1976 TUC Conference resolution specifically calling for a ban from all pubs for a period specified by the Bench. It is not often that this old Tory backs a TUC resolution, but in this issue I do. The TUC resolution is far stronger than this watered down Bill and perhaps I feel a little stronger about this than my colleagues who have spoken before me. I sincerely hope that at Committee stage we shall be able to command all-party support for certain strengthening Amendments.

I find it somewhat ridiculous that under current law the courts may exclude people from licensed premises as a condition of bail or probation, but they have no power to exclude as a consequence of violence or threat of violence. I believe that magistrates will welcome this power, as already in some cases where disturbances are frequent they are using hail as a means of excluding hooligans. But I do not think this is enough. I fear that there is a real risk that publicans, for their own protection, if they do not get some additional help under the law, will be forced to take the law into their own hands by employing "bouncers". They do not want to do that and neither do we want them to do it. This Bill would enable courts to make suspension orders on violent thugs by excluding them from licensed premises for periods of up to two years from the date of conviction.

Here I feel a little more strongly than do my colleagues. I think the Government's draconian Amendment to the original Bill is disastrous; from a total ban in the original Bill to a one-pub ban virtually destroys the intention of the Bill. The licensed victuallers, the TUC and many others want a total ban. In my view a one-pub ban is too small, but I do not go all the way with the resolutions that I have mentioned.

There are six pubs within 100 yards of my Westminster flat. A person is banned from one—what sort of penalty is it that permits him to go to the other five quite freely? In my view it is derisory: it makes an ass of the law and, as I said on another subject last night, I like laws to mean something, to be effective and to be respected. The convicted thug would laugh all the way from the court, make the Harvey Smith sign at the Dog and Duck and walk into the Rose and Crown opposite.

I inquired of my local police station—and that is only one station of very many in the City of Westminster licensing area—how many licensed premises they control in their limited territory which runs from the river by this House, through Victoria to Pimlico and is bounded on the north side by Birdcage Walk. They have 48 public houses, 140 clubs and licensed restaurants and between 40 and 50 off-licences. All these are within easy walking distance for the thug. Like the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, much though I appreciate the publican's desire for a total ban, I do not think it is administratively practical.

I have been in the Home Office, and I fully appreciate the yeoman efforts of our hard pressed police forces. I am against imposing upon them a task I do not realistically believe they can fulfil. For example, Bill Bloggs is convicted in Birmingham; he is seen in court, and with luck his photograph is published in the local paper. He is certainly listed and known in the police stations and by the pubs in his area. He goes to Wembley for a Cup Final. He commits an offence. He says he is John Smith and no one there can identify him otherwise. He might be cautioned by the police or he might be let off by the Bench the next morning as being, in their view, a first offender. Unless and until every station is linked with computer facilities to tap a central national register to identify a violent offender, I think it would place an impossible burden on the police and bring them into unmerited disrepute.

For this reason I believe that in Committee we should find a balanced solution, a halfway house between the derisory and useless one-pub ban and a full United Kingdom ban, by amending the restriction to any pub within the licensing area where the offence was committed. On penalties, I think that, within the discretion of the court, such violence should carry maximum penalties more commensurate with the damage inflicted on the victim. The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, referred to today's thinking. No one ever refers to today's wages. When I fought my first election the average national wage was £7 and there were hundreds of various offences on the Statute Book with the penalty of a fine of £5. When you earned only £7, £5 was an awful lot. Today, the national average wage is £50 or more, and very few of the fines have gone up seven times. Therefore, in many instances the penalties we now impose are not so savage on today's wage earners as they were when the national average wage was £7.

The courts in their wisdom will assess the extent of the damage inflicted and the violence used. A black eye or a split lip from a clenched fist cannot be compared with a hideous broken glass attack, with an eye lost and a lacerated face, and probably endless painful skin grafts over months or years. We want penalties to frighten people from using the lethal broken glass, and a maximum which the courts would be empowered to impose in terrible cases like that of Mr. Dixon. I therefore hope that the penalties will be very fully considered in Committee. My Lords, all workpeople are entitled to be protected at their place of work. The Health & Safety at Work Act imposes endless safeguards on employers. The barman and the barmaid are at work, and with the traditional "mine host" they are entitled to our protection.

7.54 p.m.


My Lords, I am most reluctant to intervene in this debate, and to show my reluctance I will make just one point very quickly indeed. It is with regard to penalties, which I hope will be borne in mind in Committee. As your Lordships know, the penalty for noncompliance with a suspension order is a fine or imprisonment or the imposition of a further suspension order. I believe, in practice, that the penalty most probably imposed, will be a further suspension order. However, the penalty for noncompliance with the further suspension order is precisely the same maximum fine and precisely the same term of imprisonment as for failure to comply with the original suspension. I feel that this is a point which ought to be looked at in Committee.

7.55 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Boston of Faversham)

My Lords, perhaps it would be helpful if I intervened very briefly at this stage to give the Government's views on this Bill. I would like to start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, very much indeed for giving us the opportunity to debate this Bill today, and for his, if I may say so, admirably clear speech. Perhaps I could also just mention one point arising out of the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rawlinson. He is, of course, correct in saying that the Bill was not debated in another place. There were, however, Amendments passed in another place, as I am sure the noble Lord will recall.

The Government recognise and indeed share the deep concern of the licensed trade organisations to protect their members from violence among the customers of licensed premises. It would be fair at this stage to make it clear, however, that the Government have an open mind on the Bill now before the House. There do, of course, already exist measures to enable licensees to deal with the problems of violent and unruly behaviour on their premises, and noble Lords will wish to consider whether this Bill's provisions will in fact offer any greater protection.

When the Bill was first published it provided for a suspension order to be made in respect of any licensed premises, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, has already referred. This is a provision which in the past the Government have consistently opposed, mainly on the ground that there is no way in which licensees would know who was subject to a suspension order and accordingly no way in which such an order could be enforced. One of the Amendments made in another place limits the operation of a suspension order to the premises on which the original offence took place. This should, in the Government's view, greatly reduce the difficulties of enforcement, since it is reasonable to assume that the landlord will recognise someone who has previously caused trouble and will know that he is subject to a suspension order. But will such an order make any real difference to the existing situation? That is really the fundamental question your Lordships will wish to consider.

At the moment the owner of any licensed premises which is not an inn has a common law right to decide whom he will admit to his premises and he can eject any unwelcome customers. This is the same right that any citizen has in deciding whether or not to let people into his home. In addition, Section 174 of the Licensing Act 1964 permits a licensee to refuse to admit or to expel anyone who is drunken, violent, quarrelsome or disorderly and to call upon the police for assistance in doing this. This Bill will add to that situation the person who is subject to a suspension order.

Noble Lords may wish to ask themselves whether a licensee will want to expel such a person unless he is being drunken, violent, quarrelsome or disorderly, in which case the power to refuse entry or to expel already exists, or whether an attempt to expel a suspended person in advance of disorderly behaviour is more likely to lead to such behaviour than to avoid it. Noble Lords will also wish to consider, no doubt, whether the use of the police to assist in the ejection or expulsion of someone who is not currently causing any disturbance can be justified. This would in fact be an additional use of police manpower, though I fully take the point which the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, made. If it is considered that the risk of disturbance is reduced rather than increased, and that the use of scarce police resources to restrain people not actually causing any disturbance is justified, then it can reasonably be argued that the introduction of a suspension order is justified. This is because of the disincentive to troublemakers to enter licensed premises and because a specific penalty is provided if they do so.

This is a matter on which, as I have already said, the Government have an open mind. But there are two additional points which I think should be brought to your Lordships' attention. The first is that the Licensing (Amendment) Act 1977 restored to the police the right to enter a public house for the purpose of routine visits, even if they did not suspect that an offence is being committed or is about to be committed. I understand from the police that they are finding this restored power very useful. Is any additional power really necessary? That is the fundamental question for your Lordships.

The second point is that the closest existing analogy to the new power is the power of magistrates under Section 6 of the Licensing Act 1902 to make an order preventing an habitual drunken offender from going into an off-licence for three years. During the last four years for which records are available (1974–1977) the annual average of convictions for drunkenness was 100,000, but only two such orders were made. While I have no means of knowing the reasons for such a limited use of this power, it must inevitably raise the question whether the courts will make use of a similar power in respect of licensed premises. And if the power is unlikely to be used, the desirability of further complicating the criminal law must be questionable.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boston of Faversham, mentioned that the law provided that it was possible for magistrates to impose a ban on someone going into an off-licence. Does it refer to one specified off-licence or any off-licence?


My Lords, I regret to say that I am not clear at this juncture whether it is a specified off-licence or any off-licence. However, I shall certainly look at the point and either let the noble Baroness, Lady Hornsby-Smith, know in writing, or, if your Lordships decide to proceed to further stages, perhaps I can answer the point then. However, I shall certainly look at the matter and will gladly let the noble Baroness know.

In conclusion, I would therefore urge your Lordships to consider this Bill most carefully and not to assume too readily that it will improve the existing situation. The possibility of the new power effectively increasing a licensee's ability to defend himself and his premises must be weighed against the possibility of unnecessarily provoking a disturbance and the likelihood of increased demands on scarce police resources. It is for noble Lords to decide which should weigh the heaviest.

I hope that those few observations about the Government's approach to the Bill will be of some assistance.

8.2 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to those noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. They have all spoken in favour of the Bill, if not in its present form at least amended in one way or another. I for one look forward to the Committee stage and am very ready to see whether we can find what one could call a halfway solution between an exclusion from one set of premises and the national ban which it seems we are all agreed is not something that we can easily operate.

We are not attempting to reassess the penalties awarded for the orginal offence; we are concerned with an additional penalty. I am sure that the Minister was right to draw attention to the two ways that we should look at the Bill, but I am left in no doubt at all that the provisions of the Bill will not provoke disturbance or violence on licensed premises. Furthermore, I cannot see that it will make any additional demands on the police—if anything, less so, because it will discourage people with this intention from going into public houses and creating a situation where the licensee has to ring up the police and ask for help.

I am certain that there is a case for the Bill, and I hope that the House will now give it a Second Reading and see it as speedily as possible on to the Statute Book.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.