This may be the first time I have praised the prospective actions of the Coalition Government, but I was pleased to see the story on the front page of today’s Observer saying that “Late-night bars and pubs face levy to meet cost of policing binge drinkers“.

Apparently, Theresa May is:

“agitating for alcohol to be considered a law-and-order issue, with responsibility for licensing moved to the Home Office from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.”

According to the article:

“Bars and pubs that stay open after 11pm will have to pay a “law and order” fee, following police concerns over the levels of drink-fuelled disorder.

Under plans to dismantle round-the-clock drinking, the government wants late-night bars to help pay for the cost of tackling antisocial behaviour and alcohol-related violence.

Town halls will be given the power to charge premises additional fees for late-night licences, with the amount likely to be graded on the establishment’s popularity. The proposals will run alongside new powers reducing the number of outlets selling alcohol.”

I don’t like to say “I told you so”, but late at night on 13th January 2003 I moved a series of amendments to the then Licensing Bill that would have done just this.  I said:

“My reason for tabling these amendments stems from my experience over the past two and a half years as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority. I declare that as an interest. During that time I have spent a great deal of time visiting every London borough to hear how policing issues are working out and what particular problems and difficulties may arise.

In an enormous variety of parts of London the issue of policing implications for licensed premises emerges as a significant problem. That is the reason for the amendment. Amendment No. 191 A is designed to give the police an opportunity to make representations to the licensing authority to the effect—this would not be a routine matter, it would be intended to be flexible and to be an alternative to objecting to the grant of a licence—that, because of the exceptional circumstances of a particular application, there would be extra policing costs, and that those extra policing costs would be likely to be significant.

If such a representation were made—and only if—the licensing authority would be required to consider it. It would then have discretion as to whether to proceed and to place as a condition on the licence that the holder of the premises licence should pay an annual sum each year to the police authority to defray the costs of additional policing. The remaining amendments are designed to ensure that the process would allow an appeals process. If people felt that the licensing authority had acted inappropriately in response to representations, there would be a mechanism for an appeals process and also a mechanism for review at a later stage.

I believe that there is widespread concern in London, and more generally around the country, about specific licensed premises—I refer not to licensed premises in general but to some individual ones—either because of what the licensee hopes will happen in those clubs or because of the number of people likely to attend. The concern could be about the way people are likely to behave inside and outside or about the way in which premises are managed or are likely to be managed.

Quite recently the Greater London Assembly, of which I am a Member, held hearings on 24-hour licensing. Members of the Association of London Government, among others, presented evidence to an all-party delegation. There was concern that there would be insufficient police resources to cope with any anticipated increase in disturbances, resulting from the proposed reforms. That was expressed in terms of the volume of policing needed at one location and the spread of that resource throughout the night. That is a concern, I suspect, shared around the country. It was thought that that would require the police authority to re-think its policing priorities and objectives to ensure that additional policing was available. That would mean police resources diverted from other functions.

Later on in the inquiry the deputy assistant commissioner responsible for the Westminster area presented evidence. He highlighted again the point that if there is a rise in the number of licensed premises, there will be a commensurate rise in disorder which will skew resources to deal with that. If there is a plan to say that this is going to be a place, as he said, that has a huge number of licensed premises, then we need to think how we will fund public services to cope with that. If someone comes in to make a legitimate profit, how do we fund the policing that might be needed?

Officers may be taken away from a housing estate where they are sorely needed in order to go to police late-night drunks. He cited a number of examples where holders of licensed premises voluntarily make a contribution to policing costs. The problem is that that is a voluntary requirement. It is not something that the irresponsible licence holders will necessarily do; nor is there necessarily any agreement about the level of contributions.

For those who may think that this issue applies only to central London, I was particularly taken by representations received from my honourable friend the Member of Parliament for Hornchurch about the problems faced in Havering. The borough does not have a high level of policing resources and, by and large, does not need them. With the number of licensed club premises in Romford Town—I use this as an example—the vision that he conjured up was of large numbers of highly excited young Essex girls and boys congregating in Romford town centre in the early hours of the morning. This clearly presents issues which require a considerable policing input into a borough which, by and large, does not have a very large policing resource.

Where exceptional policing costs are likely to be incurred through a licence application there should be some arrangement whereby, as a condition of such a licence, the police authority receives a contribution towards those costs.”

Unfortunately, despite support from one LibDem peer (Lord Avebury) – the Tories were silent on the issue – the Government resisted my proposals with a number of frankly specious arguments from Baroness Tessa Blackstone.  Apparently, my proposals:

“could drive a major wedge between the police and the industry at a time when we need them to work together and with others in partnership to defeat crime and anti-social behaviour. Certainly, there would need to be very widespread public consultation on this issue before we could agree to take it forward.

The financial impact on the industry would also have to be carefully analysed. The hospitality and leisure industry is a major part of the wider tourism industry. The well-being of this industry is important to our economy. Since 1997, it has provided one in four of all new jobs created in the UK and one in five that have been created in pubs and bars.

We should also recognise that this would be an additional tax on industry by another name. Under the terms of the amendments, it would be a tax for the benefit of police authorities imposed by the licensing authority and not by the Government with the consent of Parliament. The phrase “no taxation without representation” could come back to haunt us.”

I responded by describing myself as “somewhat perplexed” (Lords-speak for “I think this is nonsense”) by the response from the Minister:

“The point is that such a provision would provide an opportunity for the exceptional cases or the areas where there are real problems to be picked up on the basis of representations by the police and then to be determined by a licensing authority—which under Bill’s proposals will be democratically elected; so the argument that there is no taxation without representation is clearly spurious.

My noble friend made the point that it would be much better to have a voluntary arrangement rather than a compulsory one. Of course it is much better if those who cause the most problems are happy to volunteer to make a contribution. But I suspect that if one asks the communities around the various types of establishments that we have been talking about, one will find that it is those who are least responsible who cause the most problems and who are the least likely to enter into voluntary agreements. For those reasons, I believe that it is necessary to include a provision which can, under certain circumstances, require such licence holders to make some kind of contribution.

Similarly, I am not convinced about the argument that the amendment could create a wedge between the police and the industry. A wedge is created at present by irresponsible licence holders who do not enter into discussions.

The fundamental problem that I have is this: yes, of course this proposal could be interpreted as a tax; but it is proposed that the circumstances should be exceptional; and that the discretion would be exercised by an elected authority. That point deals with the argument that there is no taxation without representation. In any event, taxation agreed by Parliament would necessarily apply across the country.

An issue that arises in regard to many of these establishments is that they are very localised. Havering is a low crime borough, but the problems of Romford town centre and of the clubs in Romford are extreme, and other suburbs have to deal with similar issues. The problems of Westminster are the result of a concentration of licensed premises in the centre of London.”

In any event, the then Government would not listen.  I don’t suppose Teresa May was tuned into the Parliament Channel then either, but it is gratifying that the point is now understood and I look forward to seeing some concrete proposals being brought forward.

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