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Column 219We know that people who have drink problems- -who suffer from alcoholism--will not be cured simply because we make it an offence to drink alcohol in public places. All we shall do is drive those people into areas where they think that they will not be discovered. They will go under bridges and into parks. They will find derelict sites and they may go into subways which take people under busy roads. They will sit and drink there, in the hope that they will not be suspected.
Although I hope that the Minister pays attention to the points in the new clauses, I also hope that he will realise that they are not a solution, and that they may simply create a different kind of problem in a different area of Scottish cities.
I am especially concerned about new clause 81, which specifically makes it an offence for anyone under the age of 18 to consume alcoholic liquor in a public place in Scotland. During the Easter recess, I was asked by one of the detached youth workers who work in my constituency to visit an area of Dundee called Mid Craigie, and to speak to about a dozen youngsters in the area about the problems facing people under 21 who live in schemes in which there are high levels of unemployment and poverty.
I spoke to the youngsters, and it immediately became obvious that one of the major reasons why they turned to drink--and to drugs, in some cases-- was that there was nothing for them to do in their area. No facilities were available in their area specifically for young people.
The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) knows Dundee well, so he knows that Mid Craigie is adjacent to Whitfield. He knows that there is a community centre there, and he may say, "Why do the youngsters from Mid Craigie not go to the community centre in Whitfield and get involved in a useful pursuit there ?"
Such matters are very territorial when people are young. People living in Mid Craigie would never go to Whitfield to attend a function, because they would be frightened that they would be attacked by the local youths ; the same is true of the idea that people from Whitfield would go to Mid Craigie. That is true of any area of any Scottish city. Kids need facilities in their own areas if they are to be attracted away from drugs, drinking and other illegal activities.
The same goes for the city centre. It is okay to provide discos and youth centres in the centre of Dundee, but many youngsters do not have the price of a bus fare to get into the centre. If they cannot afford the entrance fees to the discos, they will try to do something else in their own area.
Unfortunately, in Scotland today, a number of off-licences, especially in the peripheral housing schemes in our cities, are stocking up on the kind of drinks which get people drunk quickly and which are targeted directly at the young. Drinks such as Diamond White and Diamond Blush--fortified types of drink which are meant to get people drunk quickly--are being stocked in the hope that under-age people will go into the off-licences to buy them.
Even the very suggestion, which is often made, that people should drink from the neck of the bottle rather than out of a glass, and that it is meant to be a designer way in which to drink, as seen in all the advertisements in the alcohol industry, is meant to get people drunk faster. If one drinks directly from the bottle, the alcohol gets into one's bloodstream more quickly.
Column 220There is a serious problem, so we must tackle the root cause of young people turning to drink or drugs. One of the main reasons is the way in which the House has treated young people for a considerable number of years. There is rampant youth unemployment in all our cities.
I know that the Minister will say that there is a youth training place available for every youngster who wants one between the ages of 16 and 18. He should come to Dundee and speak to the youngsters that I spoke to, some of whom are 19 and have gone through that age bracket without ever being offered any youth training place. They have never been given a place or the chance to make a mark in the economy.
As a result, those youngsters had to apply for severe hardship allowances, which many were denied because of the strict criteria set to qualify for them. As a result, they did not receive housing benefit or income support, and many felt that there was no alternative but to turn to crime, or to take to drink or drugs, and the only place they could do that was outside off-licences in the city.
While I support the idea of cracking down on those people who cause a social nuisance in our society, especially in Scotland, I support even more the Government beginning to draw attention to the problems facing young people in the cities in Scotland, to those youngsters' lack of opportunity, to the poverty that affects young people in Scotland, and to the fact that they have few rights. It is high time the Government began to treat young people as equal members of our society. If they did, we might not need such debates in the House.
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : May I begin by apologising to the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) ? I was in another meeting, and I literally had to gallop to get here. Given my advanced age, that is not perhaps the wisest thing to do. I happily added my name to the new clauses, because in my constituency there are three localities where a great deal of public drinking takes place. The Minister visited one of the those areas--not for the purpose of public drinking, but to look at the poor housing and some of the fine housing renovation which is taking place. I am referring to the east end of Greenock, where my constituents were pleased that the Minister made time to come along.
Many of the people who indulge in such public drinking suffer from alcohol abuse. May I catch the Minister's attention for a moment, if the Whip, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), could keep quiet for a second ?
What guidance is given to the police to deal with that public drinking, which is a terrible nuisance to ordinary, decent people who are out shopping or are in the streets for lawful and legitimate purposes ? Those drinkers, who are often heavy drinkers, can become extremely aggressive and abusive when in drink. I am grateful to the Whip for looking after me in that redcap style of his.
In dealing with the problems related to public drinking, not only by youngsters but by men and women of all ages, what is the Government's current proposal for designated
Column 221places ? In terms of dealing with public drinking by people suffering from alcohol abuse and misuse, designated places play an important role.
I also ask the Minister what financial assistance the Scottish Office is giving to Inverclyde council, and, indeed, other councils, with regard to alcoholism. They do fine work in dealing with those who suffer the terrible plight of alcohol misuse and abuse. If the Minister cannot accept the new clauses, his officials and representatives from the police forces in such areas where drinking in public takes place need to get together to tackle much more effectively than hitherto that terrible public nuisance, while at the same time protecting those who suffer from the terrible illness of alcohol abuse and misuse.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : As a former military policeman, the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) will appreciate that many of these matters are for the operational discretion of police officers on the spot. Of course, the chief constable of Strathclyde will be aware of that. We have not given him specific guidance on these matters, but we take seriously the issues involved with the health and education of young people.
Obviously, I am very much against drinking to excess in any form. We are concerned about health, and the consequences of drinking to excess. We must influence young people positively about the use of alcohol, and highlight the health and other consequences associated with its misuse.
At present, many Scottish schools tackle alcohol issues within the context of comprehensive health and social education programmes. The Scottish Office, the Health Education Board for Scotland, the Scottish Council on Alcohol and health boards are also involved, and parents have a fundamental role in the education of their children. Mr. McAllion rose
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that we have given an increased allocation of £138,000 this year to the Scottish Council on Alcohol. The council will be assisting with these matters with particular reference to young people.
Mr. McAllion : The Minister mentioned education about alcohol in our schools. Can he tell the House when that education programme begins in schools in Scotland ? Representatives of the alcohol project that is currently working in Whitfield, Mid Craigie and Linlathen in my constituency told me recently that they have evidence that children as young as eight and nine are beginning to drink or to experiment with drink. Will such an education programme go into primary schools as well as secondary schools ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman makes the territorial point that, whereas action is being taken in Whitfield, that may not apply with equal strength in Mid Craigie. I shall certainly make inquiries on that point.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the byelaws with regard to Dundee, where he is from, have been confirmed by the Scottish Office. Indeed, we are taking action. It is for local authorities to come forward with proposals, and the
Column 222Scottish Office will process them as quickly as possible. We are already taking action on a large number of fronts. We recognise that the problem of under-age drinking needs to be tackled on several fronts.
Mr. Bill Walker rose
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I shall give way when I have developed my argument and explained what we are doing on byelaws. For example, we have made it an offence for any person to buy alcohol or to sell it to a person under the age of 18, and for a person under the age of 18 to buy alcohol for his or any other person's consumption. We already have powers and penalties to deal with unacceptable behaviour which is, rightly, associated with drinking in public places.
Offences have been introduced relatively recently in the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 and the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 covering, first, drunk and incapable behaviour ; secondly, obstruction of the lawful passage of another person in a public place ; thirdly, acts of vandalism ; and fourthly, the banning of alcohol from sporting events.
There have been a number of other law and order measures, such as tightening up the giving of late-night licences. In addition, behaviour likely to cause alarm or annoyance can constitute the common law crime of breach of the peace, and the penalties available to the courts for these offences include sizeable fines and imprisonment.
Mr. Bill Walker : I would not have tabled these new clauses if I had considered that the byelaws were working effectively. The designated places experience in Dundee has demonstrated that, while one can remove the problem from the areas that are designated, there is nothing now in statute that allows Dundee city council to deal with all the other areas that people have gone to. Therein lies the problem.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am aware of the problem that my hon. Friend mentions--that the successful introduction of a byelaw can displace the problem to a neighbouring area. I can only suggest that, when local authorities consider byelaw applications, they also consider whether they wish to extend the areas concerned to cover displacement. If there is clear justification for such an extension, it may be helpful to do so. Local authorities are free to come forward with proposals in the matter.
As for the proposals that we have put before local authorities about byelaws, we have asked them to consider making byelaws prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in designated public places, and have invited them to put forward proposals.
Such byelaws have been very successful in Motherwell and Dundee, and they have been specifically targeted at particular trouble spots. They offer a useful means of combating the problem of behaviour by people of all ages, and have been widely welcomed. The maximum penalty for breaching the byelaws is £500. I hope that more local authorities throughout Scotland will come forward with proposals, which, as I have already confirmed, we will process quickly.
Dr. Godman : On the question of under-age drinking, is the Minister trying to tell the House that he is satisfied with the measures employed by his officials and others in dealing with the activities of unscrupulous off -licensees
Column 223who will sell booze, if they can get away with it, to kids of any age ? I do not believe that the measures currently in force are tough enough to cope with these dealers.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman is speaking about offences that are being committed. It is a question of evidence. When the evidence is available, the police are in a position to take it forward. It is exactly the same with glue sniffing. When products that can be misused are sold across the counter illegally, it should be reported to the police and action should be taken.
We have no plans to introduce a general offence prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in public places by people of any age, or specifically by people under 18. The reason is that given by my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) : an absolute ban on drinking in public places would penalise innocent activities, such as family picnics and other occasions, where public consumption of alcohol is perfectly acceptable.
It would be a draconian measure to introduce a general offence, as not all of Scotland has entirely the same problems or suffers them to the same extent. The way forward is through byelaws. A whole range of legislative penalties is already in place to combat disorderly conduct and behaviour associated with drinking in public places, such as rowdyism.
To mention a very obvious point, I am in the business of encouraging tourism in Scotland. It would discourage tourism to put in place a total ban, as suggested, which could relate to picnics, beach parties, fetes and so on.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My hon. Friend says, "Nonsense," but it would penalise innocent activities such as family picnics, and that is going far too far. Although this is essentially a technical matter, the new clauses are flawed in that they propose offences without associated penalty provisions. In view of the range of measures that have been put forward by the Scottish Office to combat the problems associated with drinking-- including under-age drinking in public--I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the motion.
Mr. Bill Walker : Some of the things that my hon. Friend said were not terribly helpful. I remind him that we have laws on statute in Scotland where instructions have been given to the police to practise the application of those laws in what is deemed to be a favourable manner to the community. There is nothing odd about the police having such discretion --it happens all the time. In particular, it has given me cause for concern about certain homosexual activities in my constituency with regard to discretion. [Interruption.] I say that because I am pointing to the fact that a statute exists, and the police and procurators have been given guidance about not pressing prosecutions.
My hon. Friend suggests to me that, in a tourist area--I yield to no one in the House in the defence of tourist interests--Tayside police would behave in a manner that would upset tourists. That is not living in the real world. I hope that the pedants who wrote my hon. Friend's reply would remember that those of us who are constituency Members live in the real world.
Column 224I recognise that byelaws have a part to play. My concern is that in city such as Dundee--I refer to Dundee because experiments have been carried out there--it is difficult constantly to change the designated areas if those involved keep moving. We may be forced into designating the doors and entrances to every off-licence and supermarket, and anywhere else that sells alcoholic liquor. There are real problems.
I hope that my hon. Friend understands that I will not press the new clauses to a Division because I recognise that there are technical reasons why they could not become law. I understand that changes would have been required even if the vote had been won. I hope that the debate has at least brought the problem, as hon. Members see and experience it, to the attention of the Government and their advisers. Those who want enlightened laws on licensing to come into practice also want to deal with the problems with drinking. I hope that the Scottish Office will realise that the matter will not go away. We will continue to pursue it because, until we find satisfactory answers, our constituents will continually press us to do something about it. Having put that on record, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
.--(1) In the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, the following are revoked
(a) in article 3(1) (homosexual acts in private), the words "and Article 5 (merchant seamen)" ; and
(b) article 5 (homosexual acts on merchant ships).
(2) Article 3(4) of the Homosexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 1982 (homosexual acts in the armed forces) is revoked. (3) This section, and the associated entry relating to the 1982 Order in Schedule 11, shall come into force on the date this Act is passed.'.-- [Mr. Michael.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
.-In section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, after subsection (7) there shall be inserted the words
"(7A) A constable may arrest a person without warrant whom he has reasonable cause to suspect of having committed an offence under this section.."'.-- [Mr. Vaz.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I do not wish to detain the House for very long on this matter. I have had discussions with the Minister and I am delighted to say that he has agreed to meet a delegation of my constituents to discuss the issue of hit-and-run drivers, and the power of the police to arrest those responsible for such activities.
I pay tribute to the Leicester Mercury , my local newspaper, which launched the Campaign for Justice, and to Mr. Carter, the editor, who took up the issue of the lack of police powers to deal with those responsible for hit- and-run offences. As the law stands, offenders can be brought to justice only by a summons, unless another serious offence is committed at the same time.
Column 225I came prepared with many cuttings from the Leicester Mercury , describing the huge number of incidents during the past few years. Pregnant women have been knocked down, and hit-and-run drivers have disappeared, and the police have had no powers to deal with such offences. Last year, I introduced the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill to change the law, but the Government opposed that measure. I hope that the Campaign for Justice will be successful.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) has also been extremely helpful. He and the Minister persuaded me that the matter should be considered in great detail at a later stage, rather than tacked on to this long Bill. I am happy to accept the assurances by both colleagues that they will consider the matter carefully. I therefore do not intend to press the clause to a vote, because I believe that the climate and conditions for a rational discussion of this important matter exist.
Finally, I am grateful to the Police Federation for its support. It wanted an amendment tabled to section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. I was not able to do so, because time has moved on, but I hope that we can have a sensible discussion, and that new measures will be proposed later this year.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) : I shall be extremely brief. The House and the Minister would be wise to heed such a potent combination as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), the Leicester Mercury and the Police Federation when there is a call for a change in the law.
Surely it is an anomaly that such a serious offence can be dealt with only by summons. I hope that, by dealing with the callousness shown by those involved in hit-and-run offences, this is one of the occasions when we can agree across the Chamber about the need to amend the law swiftly.
I am happy to be able to respond to the comments of my hon. Friend, and to tell the Minister that the Opposition will be happy to assist in the process, and to be as helpful as we can if the Minister is able to find a way to respond positively and quickly to hon. Friend's eloquent plea.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean) : The Government's view is that the police have adequate powers of arrest for offences related to road accidents. Since I have agreed to meet the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) and to discuss the matter in the Home Office, where I hope that I will be able to explain to him and to any of his constituents he wishes to bring why I think that the present powers are adequate, I do not propose to go into them at the Dispatch Box today.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn .
The Secretary of State shall at least once in each year certify in respect of each prison, remand centre and young offender institution
(a) the certified normal accommodation of the prison, remand centre or young offender institution, that is to say the number of prisoners who can be satisfactorily accommodated in cells and dormitories ; and
Column 226(b) the certified regime capacity, that is to say the number of prisoners for which the prison can provide an acceptable regime.'.-- [Mr. Michael.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Through the clause we want to make a positive contribution to resolving the major problem of prison overcrowding. We propose that once each year the Home Secretary shall
"certify in respect of each prison, remand centre and young offender institution"
the normal accommodation of that institution. By that we mean "the number of prisoners who can be satisfactorily accommodated in cells and dormitories".
Secondly, we want the Home Secretary to state, at least once each year, the certified regime capacity--the number of prisoners for which an acceptable regime can be provided. I emphasise the word "acceptable" as it is crucial to any understanding of the dangers of prisons at present. Governors warn that overcrowding is pushing prisons ever closer to explosion point. The House of Commons should respond to their warnings by finding a mechanism to deal with the problem.
The Minister who responded to the corresponding debate in Committee ridiculed the amendment that we had tabled. He said, basically, that requiring the Home Secretary to come to the House to request permission to go above certified numbers would be too bureaucratic and would cause too much delay. We have been constructive in our response and have come up with a very simple proposal, which would require the Home Secretary merely to look at the situation in each prison every year. He would have to take account not only of the accommodation provided but of the possibility of dealing properly with prisoners. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman who is responding to this debate will be more positive in respect of some of these issues than was his hon. Friend who, replying in Committee, said :
"The aim of the prison service is to house prisoners, without overcrowding, in accommodation close to their home area, but it must find suitably secure accommodation for those committed to custody by the courts. Those aims may be in conflict at times."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee B , 8 March 1994 ; c. 1246.]
We understand that there will be conflict between aims. Hence the need for a resolution mechanism and for accountability to Parliament with regard to the way in which the Home Secretary reconciles the different demands. The surprising thing about the response that I have just quoted is that it contains no mention of reform. The Minister did not say anything about the need to provide appropriate psychiatric treatment and education--the type of regime that leads to reform. The hon. Gentleman seemed to regard this as merely an exercise in numbers rather than as an exercise in the reform of prisoners.
Over the past year, prison numbers have shot up. In the first 11 months of 1993, the total increased by 16 per cent. That is an average of nearly 600 a month. The number of remand prisoners rose by 44 per cent. in that period, while the number of prisoners under 21 years of age increased by 22 per cent. I can bring some of that information up to date by saying that on Friday 18 March, there were 48,571 people in prison and 522 in police cells. I warn the House
Column 227that the holding in cells of people who ought to be in prison is another demonstration of the failure of the system to work properly. Several consequences flow from prisoner numbers. The Director General of the Prison Service, Mr. Derek Lewis, tells us that the atmosphere in the prisons following the recent sharp increase in numbers is more volatile than at any time since the Strangeways riots of 1990. In his submission to the inquiry following those riots, the then director general referred to overcrowding as the single factor that dominated prisoners' lives, produced often intolerable pressure on staff and, as a consequence, soured industrial relations, skewed managerial effort and diverted management away from positive developments. In his report on the riots, Lord Justice Woolf unreservedly endorsed this assessment of the effect of overcrowding. He said :
"Overcrowding is felt most sharply in the Victorian-built city centre prisons, which always bear the brunt of rising numbers." I pay tribute to the governors and prison officers who have to cope in these establishments. I refer in particular to Cardiff prison, which is on the border of my constituency.
Our amendment would not prevent the Government from squeezing extra prisoners into the gaols, but it would require them to state an upper limit. They would have to give careful thought to the question of the number of people that they could afford to allow to be accommodated in a prison without putting at risk the key role of the reform of offenders.
It is pointless to run a prison service in such a way that, in the long term, prisoners are more likely to offend again when they are released and, in the short term, the safety of prison staff is put at risk. Overcrowding results in cramped and unpleasant physical conditions. It also results in restricted regimes, as overcrowded prisons do not have the space, facilities or resources to provide prisoners with a full range of training, work and educational opportunities.
Judge Stephen Tumim, Chief Inspector of Prisons, commented in his annual report for 1991-92--so this reference relates to the immediate position :
"Local prisons for men do not offer sufficient time out of cell or a satisfactory range of opportunities. Those we visited in 1991/92 remained overcrowded and invariably short of space. The number of inmates held in local prisons should be determined not by the number of beds that can be crammed in but by the facilities available to contain people decently and provide them with out of cell activity." That is why the new clause deals with both those requirements. Lord Justice Woolf said in his report on prison disturbances : "It is also clear from the evidence which the Inquiry has received from prisoners, that the conditions which exist at present in our prisons cause a substantial number of prisoners to leave prison more embittered and hostile to society than when they arrived. They leave prison, therefore, in a state of mind where they are more likely to re- offend."
In an atmosphere in which the Home Secretary has used the one-line slogan "prison works" we should pay more attention to ensuring that prisons work effectively in reforming those sent to them. That is how to ensure that prisons work, not simply by cramming in numbers without thought. Overcrowding is a recipe not only for re-offending on release but for rioting in prisons. Many
Column 228recent reports have underlined the fact that it increases tension and frustration among those forced to live cheek by jowl in cramped conditions.
We should pay particular attention to the comments of the chairman of the Prison Governors' Association, Mr. Brendan O'Friel. At the association's recent conference, he said :
"We are building up a significant number of prisoners with a justifiable grudge against the Prison Service for moving them so far away from home . . . Steps must be taken to bring this to an end or it will bring trouble within our prisons."
We should heed that warning because of the threat of danger not only within our prisons but back on the streets. He went on to say :
"Overcrowded prisons are unhealthy places, far more likely to turn out embittered, hardened and contaminated individuals. Overcrowding reduces the opportunities for staff to combat contamination. It makes it very difficult for staff to put in place positive programmes to encourage prisoners to face up to offending."
Note the words "to face up"--not to give easy conditions but to force prisoners to face up to what they have done and the harm that they have caused to society. He then said :
"I appeal in the strongest possible terms to those in the rest of the criminal justice system to recognise that if the rise in the prison population continues, the whole criminal justice system could be plunged into chaos."
He added :
if the population rise continues, the risks we will have to face of further disturbances are fast becoming unacceptable."
The new clause will not solve those problems, but will ensure that Ministers account to Parliament for how they run the Prison Service. It will ensure that Parliament has before it information on the assessment made by Ministers of whether the institutions can cope with numbers and can ensure that prisoners are returned to society less likely to offend and create new victims. That is why it is such an important new clause, and I commend it to the House.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : The new clause would require an annual reassessment of living accommodation and regime capacity across the entire prison service. Currently, reassessment is carried out whenever there are changes in living units, such as after refurbishment. That is a practical and flexible arrangement. Furthermore, Prison Service area managers have a continuing responsibility to satisfy themselves that living accommodation in the prisons in their areas meets the requirements of the Prison Act 1952, so nothing would be gained in practice by accepting the first part of the new clause, other than extra bureaucracy.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) seemed to be unaware of the figure for certified normal accommodation. We know it for each prison. We are responsible to Parliament for it under the Prison Act 1952, which is why I have published regularly, in answers to questions from hon. Members, the CNA figure and the population by total service, individual prisons or prisons in particular regions. So information is readily available if ever the hon. Gentleman cares to ask for it. Indeed, he would find it if he looked back in recent editions of Hansard .
The regime capacity is a new concept. It would not, I fear, be an objective measure, but would depend on facilities, type of prison and prisoner, and availability of staff, which can vary heavily with, for example, the demand for court escorts. Despite the recent growth in the