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Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is making insinuations, but is it not the practice in Standing Committee debatesI was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Actto table probing amendments? I recall amendments on, for example, whether we should start a clause with a conjunction. We had long debates about that, but I do not recall a single amendment from the Conservative party on flexible drinking hours.
David Davis: If the hon. Gentleman listens to what I say next, he will understand why. We now discover that, before, during and for a short while after the Act went through its proceedings in Parliament, the Government led us to believe that the police were content with these proposals. We now discover that more than half of all police forces are deeply concerned by this Act. Steve Green, the chief constable of Nottinghamshire police and, incidentally, the spokesman from the Association of Chief Police Officers on alcohol-fuelled violence, warned that
Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend understand the police's concern at the effect that the measure will have on recruitment? If they see more and more of the job as policing the unruly people who have come out of the pubs late and the antisocial behaviour that is fuelled by alcohol, it will become more and more difficult to recruit people into the police in the first place.
David Davis: My hon. Friend is entirely right. The measure will affect many aspects of policing. It will draw the police away from the other crimes that they should be dealing with. As he said, they will become demoralised as they have to deal with rather unpleasant tasks.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West) (Lab): I take it from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks that he is telling the House that today's debate is the result of the Conservative party's abject failure as an effective Opposition.
David Davis: The hon. Gentleman should read a little more. If he reads John Maynard Keynes, he will find that Keynes said, "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?" That is clearly what the hon. Gentleman does not do. He simply has a prejudice that he starts and ends with.
Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con):
Is not the question that Ministers should answer whether, overall, society would benefit from 24-hour boozing?
25 Jan 2005 : Column 168
We now know that much more information was given to the Government at the time and that it was not released to the rest of us. There is now even further information and each of the bits of information, apart from that from the drinks industry, suggests that 24-hour drinking would be very bad for Britain.
David Davis: My hon. Friend makes an apposite point. As I was about to say, there was no indication during the passage of the Act that the medical fraternity had concerns. When the Government published their alcohol harm reduction strategy paper, the report highlighted the adverse impacts of binge drinking on the nation's health, and on levels of antisocial behaviour. However, evidence has now come to light that the Government withheld several criticisms of their policy on licensing. The Sunday Times has reported that the paper was redrafted to remove evidence of a link between drink and 19,000 sex assaults a year and the "adverse" effect 24-hour opening might have on local residents.
Many experts consulted by the Government concluded that the increased alcohol consumption resulting from liberalisation of licensing laws would have a severe negative impact. These concerns were included in a draft of the report that was circulated to the Cabinet in August 2003. However, they had been removed from the report by the time an interim report was published in September. One of the report's expert contributors, Professor Griffith Edwards, said at the time:
"One of the striking things was that when the final report was published there were a great number of things that really just didn't appear there at all. I think it's extremely important and certainly the academics and the Royal Colleges that commented on the Strategy are very concerned that these things had been left out."
"I think it's an example of sexing down a dossier on alcohol problems really . . . evidence that was clearly available to the review team that was compiling the interim analysis was not included in the final report, and there must be reasons behind that."
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): Given that the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's argument and the evidence that he has put forward seem to imply that there will be more binge drinking and antisocial behaviour if the licensing hours are relaxed, will he argue that, to curb binge drinking, there should be a less flexible licensing regime and shorter drinking hours?
Let us consider what else was not said. We finally discover that the Home Office itself had very serious concerns about the Act. The former Home Secretary, as I said earlier, described the proposal as
She was supported by Leigh Lewis, a permanent secretary at the Home Office and the Government's most senior crime-fighting mandarin. At a meeting in February to discuss "Home Office concerns with the Licensing Act", Lewis outlined official unpublished research showing links between binge drinking and violence. He said:
"Violent crime was up 14 per cent., a significant proportion was taking place in proximity to licensed premises . . . Stranger crime was increasing significantly; and 47 per cent. of the victims of violent crime believed that their assailant was under the influence of alcohol".
David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): This debate and the debate in Westminster Hall this morning have, at least, enabled us to focus on alcohol misuse. The right hon. Gentleman said that when the Act went through Committee, the Government did not provide this or that information. However, was it not the job of the Opposition to try to find out from the medical profession and the police their views and criticisms of what was proposed? Is it not the case that the Opposition have decided that this is a popular issue to exploit and, late in the day, are jumping on the bandwagon?
Let us be clear. No one objects to anyone having a good time; no one wants to stop people having fun or enjoying themselves. Of course, it is true that the vast majority of people can be trusted to behave responsibly and not to cause trouble for others, but that is not what we are talking about today. We are talking about the Government's clear decision to allow pubs to open for 24 hours a daya decision that international evidence suggests could lead to greater irresponsible drinking.
with one senior police officer directly linking this to the increase in the number of licensed premises. In Ireland, the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000 ushered in an era of more violence, more damage, and more disorder. The Irish Times reported that
"the consequences of excessive drinking are visible late at night on the streets of our cities, towns and villages. They are reflected in crowded accident and emergency wards in hospitals and, all too frequently, victims of alcohol-related violence end up on mortuary slabs".
The mess caused by Ireland's Intoxicating Liquor Act 2000 had to be followed by tough measures in the Intoxicating Liquor Acts 2003 and 2004. We can avoid the need for such a legislative onslaught here simply by delaying the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003.
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