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The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. David Lock): If the hon. Gentleman considers that antisocial behaviour orders are full of problems and to be deprecated, is he looking to a future Conservative Government to repeal them?

Mr. Clappison: It is pathetic that Ministers rely on such an argument. As far as I am aware, no one has said that a future Conservative Government, which I hope will come about, will repeal the orders. Ministers must face the fact--the Home Secretary made the point--that the orders have not lived up to expectations. Will the Minister say that about 150 antisocial behaviour orders--if that is the number--over two years have delivered on Labour's promises to tackle disorder in our inner cities? Does he think that all the disorder is being caused by 150 individuals? If so, that is pathetic.

We have a small foretaste of the Government's re-election campaign. Their orders have failed and the Government have failed to give people what they were led to believe they would get. The Government have now made a last-ditch attempt to blame the Conservative party.

Once again, law and order is being taken from the top shelf, dusted down and put in front of the electorate. It is an ingredient of the Government's failed campaign. We know that an election is coming when we hear the Government start to talk about the yob culture. There can

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be no more convincing evidence that the Government's policies over three and a half to four years have failed to deliver what the people were led to believe they would get, which was decent law and order. They are now trying to cover up for their failures. Given the way in which it has been presented, the Bill is the most cogent and compelling admission of the Government's failure. They deserve to get a kick up the backside from the voters for their failure, and they will.

8.15 pm

Mr. Paul Stinchcombe (Wellingborough): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for inviting me to make a brief contribution to this important debate. I declare an interest: I am a barrister.

The Bill is a substantial measure. It contains 132 clauses and it is divided into seven parts, one of which is divided into three chapters. I shall be brief because I wish to speak on only one of those chapters, which relates to alcohol-related crime. I shall do so because of the crime figures in my constituency, which includes Wellingborough and Rushden.

Over the past few years we have heard from some Opposition Members that crime has risen, but it has not risen in my constituency. Indeed, it has fallen year on year since the election. In the past year it has fallen by 5 per cent. overall. There has been a fall in auto-crime of more than 12 per cent. The fall in burglaries has been nearly 22 per cent. In target areas, where Home Office money has been invested in certain estates, there has been a fall in crime of about 25 per cent.

Some hon. Members have traded their local evening newspaper headlines. There have been headlines in my constituency. On 12 January, there was a report headed "Dramatic Drop in Burglaries". That was a drop in the Christmas month 1999 to 2000 of 50 per cent., and there has been a drop of 62 per cent. over the past two years. There is a fall not only in burglaries but in violent crime. At the end of last year, there was a month-on-month reduction of 31 per cent.

Crime is falling and police numbers are increasing. Nearly 50 new full-time officers joined the Northamptonshire police force during the six months between April and September last year. These facts and figures are causes of considerable celebration, but not complacency. Although the figures overall are good, there are disturbing trends within them.

Violent crimes in licensed premises rose from 51 in 1999 to 71 in 2000, which is a rise of 40 per cent. I understand that we may be getting off lightly in Wellingborough. It appears that about 13,000 violent incidents take place in or near licensed premises every week. More than 30 per cent. of violent attacks that involve strangers occur in or near pubs and clubs. That means people being bottled or glassed, hit with pool cues, knifed, headbutted, kicked or stamped on. People are attacked inside pubs when they are having a drink or attacked outside when they are trying to go home.

If we are to be tough on crime and on the causes of crime, we must tackle more than poverty, drug addiction, homelessness and helplessness, the areas in which crime breeds. We must be tough on alcohol abuse as well. This abuse makes its criminal manifestations known in many forms. There is drink-driving, domestic violence, being drunk and disorderly and drunk and incapable in public.

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In Wellingborough, these events take place outside the pubs and between the pubs and on the streets as people walk to clubs.

We have developed anti-crime orders and strategies; we have consulted and there has been a full household survey; and we know what people in Wellingborough fear most about alcohol-related crime. They are concerned about the rising crime that takes place outside licensed premises. They are concerned especially about youngsters who drink too much. They are concerned most of all about kicking-out time, when dozens of youngsters spill into the streets at the same time, often intent on walking to the same night club.

Are the measures included in the chapter designed to curb drinking, youthful drinking and violent crime induced by alcohol going to work? One has only to note the particular concern in my constituency to realise an inherent irony. We are concerned about licensed premises, and such concern means that a system of control and regulation should already be in place. If licensing already exists, one should have a system that works to prevent violent crime from arising. Manifestly, however, that has not been the case: violent crime is endemic throughout the country and is focused on areas outside pubs and clubs.

I shall look at a few practical problems and see whether the measures in the Bill will address them. I shall deal with just four features of alcohol-influenced violence: first, the pressures from breweries to sell more alcohol; secondly, under-age drinkers; thirdly, door-to-door management of pubs and clubs; and, finally, licensing hours.

I shall start with the breweries, not because I want to take on big business but simply because huge pressure is placed on pub managers to sell more alcohol. There is nothing surprising about that; that is the job of breweries. They raise targets year on year. The bonuses of pub managers are linked to those targets and when managers fail to meet targets, breweries immediately suggest that they undertake promotions. Those promotions always focus on youngsters and, increasingly, on high- percentage spirits.

A pub manager may not want to follow those promotions because he does not want to deal with the resulting drunkenness but, with no viable alternative and with bonuses at stake, the pressure can become irresistible. One then has happy hours, alcopops and the promotion of shots, such as Aftershocks in red or blue, and the pornography, in my view, of adverts offering two double vodkas and a Red Bull at a cut price--which is four shots in one go. Inevitably, all of that encourages binge drinking, especially by youngsters.

That leads me on to the second feature that I mentioned--the risks of alcohol-influenced violent crime are surely exacerbated if there are inadequate controls on under-age drinking. I am not seeking to take any high moral ground. Like, I suspect, most people in this country, when I was 15 or 16 I thought that it was a positive challenge to try to get served in pubs. With the maturity of hindsight, I can say that if that remains the reality for youth today, if advertisements put pressure on young people to buy more high-alcohol spirits, and if pressure is put on pub managers to sell those drinks, it is essential that we take sensible measures to try to restrict the potentially adverse consequences.

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That leads me to the third factor, for one such measure would be to tackle the problem of door-to-door pub management. We need more than bar management to try to stop someone selling alcohol to people who are getting drunk or are already drunk. We need more than door management to kick them out or stop them coming in if they are drunk. We need door-to-door management to alert neighbouring pubs and clubs to the problem of a drunk customer who is about to arrive. If there is one bad publican in a high street, all the other publicans there can suffer, as drunks then turn up at their public houses, making drink-related violence real and obvious.

Finally, those risks are exacerbated by the current licensing hours. Last orders are uniformly at 11 pm and drinking up takes place at 11.20 pm. Large numbers of youngsters are therefore all deposited in the street at the same time, often intent on going to the same club. Many of them will have sunk the last few rounds as quickly as possible to make sure that they downed them before closing time.

There is a fairly potent cocktail of problems. There are four features of drink-related activity outside licensed premises that need to be addressed. We need to see action on brewery promotions, under-age drinking, door-to-door management and out-of-date, poorly thought out licensing hours. The question is whether the Bill, in its relevant chapter, deals with those factors. I have come to the conclusion that it does so in part and after a fashion. It does so only in part because it does not contain any provisions on licensing hours, on which reform is now long overdue, and because it does not say anything about the compulsory use of proof-of-age cards. The proof-of-age scheme promoted by the council in my constituency did not meet with the marked approval of many of those selling alcohol.

The Bill deals with those factors after a fashion because the tool that we are using to close down disorderly pubs--although welcomed by the police in my constituency--is blunt and indirect. It puts pressure on the publican, but does not target minds, as it should in my view, or the breweries or the specific problem of door-to-door management.

Those on the Front Bench are routinely challenged at Question Time about who is responsible for crime. Criminals are responsible for crime. In this case, it is drunken thugs. Crime is not the responsibility of Government, nor indeed is it their responsibility to do everything they can to prevent it. We live in a free world and sometimes the price of freedom is exposing ourselves to the risk of criminal activity. There is always a balance of liberty against justice and victims' rights, but liberty is not so important as to allow people to be drunk and then be violent, nor to sell alcohol to those who are drunk and may become violent. The liberty of us all is the ability to go to the pub and drink in peace.

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