If you’re planning to buy alcohol in the near future, and prefer not to have your mugshot made available to the local police, best to stock up now. Because, buried deep within the debate around the s.31 of the Policing and Crime Bill are provisions that will allow the Secretary of State to instruct your local corner shop - or pub - to instal CCTV and retain pictures of anyone buying alcohol for at least 60 days. Said pics will, of course, be available to the police on request.
Like so much other legislation passed by this government, nothing is ever straightforward. The Policing Bill merely gives the Secretary of State the power to issue secondary legislation (aka statutory instruments – or executive diktat): these would consist of
- a small number of mandatory licence conditions", which the government suggests should be no more than nine in number, "that apply to all new or existing licences and club premises certificates which permit the sale of alcohol,
- a larger number of permitted conditions, which the licensing authority can, in consultation with responsible authorities, apply to more than one licensed premises or club at a time.
In other words, Parliament is being asked to sign a blank cheque: give us the powers now, and we will use them as we see fit at a later date. What sort of powers might the Secretary of State seek to sign off? The government has not yet decided: but El Reg has seen a document entitled "Draft Mandatory Code for discussion with stakeholders".
The draft has not yet been approved by Ministers, so it is possible that some, all, or none of the measures included in it may be quietly dropped over the next few months. However, those we have seen range from the fussy (laying down the precise percentage of floor area that should be given over to seating), prescriptive (requiring that staff be trained at least every five years in conflict resolution) to the downright intrusive (requiring that areas where alcohol is displayed be covered by CCTV – and all footage be kept for no less than 60 days).
It is not wholly clear what the purpose of this measure would be. Over the last few years, the government has pursued a two-pronged attack on what it sees as the evils of under-age drinking.
The Licensing Act 2003 increased police powers to remove alcohol from young people: and created new and draconian penalties for individuals who sell alcohol to under-age purchasers. Both these trends are extended by the current Bill. The police have complained that they are not allowed to remove alcohol from young people where they cannot show intent to drink it: this Bill would allow them to remove alcohol from young people without need to prove intent.
At the same time, those who sell to young persons could be fined up to £2,500 (presently £500).
The question of where the camera will be trained is therefore an important one. According to the Mail, the Home Office have said that this proposal would allow police and councils to target premises where problems such as underage sales were occurring. They have said that it is not intended to penalise responsible businesses, but that cameras will be trained on the areas where alcohol is sold.
According to Shane Brennan, Public Affairs Director for the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), the intention is to film areas where alcohol is displayed, thereby allowing police to identify individuals whose main route to obtaining alcohol is through stealing it.
Mr Brennan is highly sceptical of these proposals. He said: "they will impose a wholly unnecessary expense for small businesses that sell only a limited range of alcohol, whilst those that have a problem with theft are, in most cases, already taking action".
Filming areas where alcohol is sold, as the Home Office suggest, would imply a much harsher approach to the policing of alcohol sales, requiring shop owners first to fund the installation of CCTV, and then make available to the police footage of their own staff breaking the law.
The likelihood that CCTV will be used to film transactions, as opposed to prevent theft, is given added weight by the fact that these regulations may be applied to other licensed premises, such as pubs and clubs, as well.