Previous SectionIndexHome Page

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/ Co-op): The right hon. Gentleman complains that the Government failed to bring relevant statistics into the public domain when the Licensing Bill was considered, but surely the Opposition receive Short money so that they can reveal obvious points. For example, an Office for National Statistics survey in 1998 showed that 22 per cent. of men and 8 per cent. of women were binge drinkers, but six years later, each of those figures had increased by 1 per cent. I am not trying to minimise the issue, but the facts are there and it is up to the Opposition to oppose.

David Davis: The approach is wonderful: the Government lie and we are at fault.

Let me address the solution for which the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) asked. In the Government's scramble last week, they probably realised that their original underpinning principle of 24-hour opening was wrong. Rather than stretching hours to decrease disorder, the new laws will actually increase violent and antisocial drunken behaviour. The Government still claim that 24-hour opening will lead to more responsible drinking, but I doubt that very much, as do most experts.

One only has to look at what happens when the youngsters who stagger out on to our streets at closing time go to places such as Faliraki or Ibiza. They drink for 24 hours, become drunk and disorderly and create trouble for the locals. In Britain, the front-line services will pick up the pieces. The impact on our already overstretched police and medical services will be huge. Chief Constable Steve Green said that in Nottingham, officers are diverted away from where they should be to cover the policing of the city centre. The Metropolitan Police Federation said that

2 am

Ireland had to learn the hard way, with three years of misery followed by two major revisions of the law. We should not make the same mistake. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has called for pilot schemes in a small number of towns. His call has been supported by the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Health, and also The Guardian, which reminds us that the Government were elected on a pledge to pursue "evidence-based policies". I agree with them. As the Chief Constable of Nottingham said when he gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, there are a huge number of unknowns.

As part of the plans cobbled together last week, the Government announced alcohol disorder zones. How will those zones work? If they are drawn up
25 Jan 2005 : Column 171
geographically, they could end up penalising establishments that have never had any problems. If they are drawn up by establishment, they could force rowdy drunks to go to normally quiet pubs, thus ruining other customers' pleasure and destroying the reputation of decent landlords. Could a police force legally establish and sustain a zone, and could a zone be challenged? We do not know how robust the proposed regulatory regime will be.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

David Davis: No.

The proposal to exclude individuals from local pubs is equally naive. First, it requires the individual to be caught misbehaving in our under-policed cities in the early hours of the morning, and secondly the exclusion must be policed, presumably by bar staff, who are often young or temporary, in large drinking establishments. If it does work, what will it do but force people to different, more distant, pubs? It would encourage them to undertake a more extended pub crawl and perhaps to compound the felony with a drink-driving offence, thus putting the innocent public at even more risk. I hope that I am wrong, but remember that it took the Government nearly six years to get antisocial behaviour orders into a workable form.

The intelligent and reasonable approach is obvious: defer 24-hour drinking until these and other methods of dealing with binge drinking have been tested and made workable, and then pilot the liberalisation in a few local authority areas. We should only then let the Act come into full effect. That approach would cost nothing, and could indeed save a great deal. All it requires is a Government who will face the facts and put the interests of the many before the excesses of the few.

1.4 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I am absolutely delighted that we are having the debate because I hope that it will bring clarity to a matter that has become confused in a wide variety of ways.
25 Jan 2005 : Column 172

Let me start with common ground. I agreed with every word of the first four or five minutes of the speech made by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis). His description of the state of affairs that we must address was genuinely shocking and he was right to highlight the situation. The figures that I shall cite simply reinforce the points that he made. Half of all violent crime is alcohol related, and one in five violent crimes occurs in or around pubs and clubs. Alcohol misuse costs up to £20 billion a year, and up to 70 per cent. of entrants to accident and emergency departments in hospitals overnight are fuelled by alcohol. The problem exists, but it is important to acknowledge that the situation that the right hon. Gentleman eloquently described—and that my statistics reinforce—exists today without any change to licensing hours whatsoever.

Mr. Sayeed: Will the Home Secretary tell us the number of road accidents resulting in injury or fatality that are caused by alcohol or drug abuse?

Mr. Clarke: I do not have the figures to hand, but the hon. Gentleman is correct to say that alcohol is a major aspect of fatalities among people who drive. Such abuse is serious, but that is the case whether we have the current licensing arrangements or the new flexible arrangements that have been established.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Clarke: I shall give way a couple more times and then make progress.

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that the genesis of licensing law reform came in 1995 when the then Conservative Government produced a measure, as part of their deregulation initiative, to extend the opening hours of pubs until midnight? That was passed in the House without question and failed only when it was voted down in the House of Lords. The idea of extending licensing hours came from the last Conservative Government.

Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend is exactly right. To be fair to the Conservative Government, they were trying to examine the matter on its merits, rather than being driven by a populist response to specific issues as they came up.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about drink-related accidents on our roads. There is a problem in this country because there is insufficient knowledge about the length of time for which alcohol stays in the bloodstream, and thus the time for which one can be over the limit after having a drink. Does he not think that that problem could get worse under 24-hour licensing?

Mr. Clarke: No, I do not, but I shall address that point in a second.

There is common ground among hon. Members about the problems caused by alcohol consumption in our society, but the argument has confused two separate
25 Jan 2005 : Column 173
questions, as the motion deliberately tries to do: first, what will be the effect of flexible licensing hours; and secondly, what can we do to address alcohol-fuelled crime, especially violent crime? I want to try to disentangle those important questions.

Next Section IndexHome Page