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Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke: I am going to make a little progress.

On the first question, evidence shows that liberalising licensing hours does not necessary lead to the increased use of alcohol. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden says that he is looking for evidence, so let me simply cite the effect of changes in this country.

Several well documented conclusions were drawn from the change to all-day opening in Scotland in 1976, which I shall cite to inform the House, as the right hon. Gentleman would want me to. In 1974, average spending on alcohol in Scotland was greater than in England and Wales, but following the change to the licensing laws, the gap narrowed and in 1983—seven years after the changes—the average Scottish household was spending 7 per cent. less than the UK average.

To address the point made by the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), drunk-driving convictions in Scotland increased by 1.2 per cent., compared with an increase of 36 per cent. in England and Wales over the same period. Violence against the person increased in Scotland by 16.7 per cent., compared with 43.8 per cent. in England and Wales.

Convictions for under-age drinking fell by 18.6 per cent. in Scotland in the four years after reform, compared with a rise of more than 23 per cent. in England and Wales. Convictions for drunkenness in Scotland fell by 13.6 per cent. in the five years following the change, compared with a rise of 13.1 per cent. in England and Wales. In the 19 to 26 age group, the decline in Scotland was 14.1 per cent., compared with a rise of 19.2 per cent. in England and Wales. Those were the effects of the changes—

Mr. Frank Field: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Clarke: I shall give two more examples, then give way.

The second change was to all-day opening in England and Wales, for which the Conservative Government legislated in 1988. The introduction of all-day opening that year was followed by a decline in per capita alcohol consumption in each of the next five years. The consequence is clear. My final example before giving way is that of extended new year's eve opening in England and Wales after 1999. Most police forces and local authorities reported significant improvements as a result of the change. That is the evidence of the state of affairs resulting from changes made in this country, and it must be taken into account.

Mr. Frank Field: Could not the first set of statistics that my right hon. Friend presented be read differently, to show that although consumption in Scotland has increased, it has increased faster in this country? The
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question that the Government have to answer is whether further liberalisation of licensing laws will lessen consumption or increase it.

Mr. Clarke: My right hon. Friend is entirely right—that is the question that must be addressed. People of good will can come to different views of the potential change; I simply place in evidence the fact that where change has taken place, it has not led to the increase in consumption that was feared—in fact, the reverse has happened. I accept that many hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and others, have, for reasons of perfect propriety, taken the view that the proposed step is risky and undesirable—but the principal force of my argument is that we should not entangle the debate on licensing hours with the debate on how to fight the impact of over-consumption of alcohol, alcohol-related crime and so on. Both are important issues that must be given proper consideration, but they are separate: the link between the two is not made and should not be thought to have been made.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): The Home Secretary reads our local newspaper, the Eastern Daily Press, so he is aware of the problems in King's Lynn affecting the residents of Pilot street in particular, and of the fact that most of the local police apparently oppose liberalisation. I do not know whether he has spoken to the chief constable of Norfolk about the proposals, but what have the Norfolk police told him about the Government's proposals?

Mr. Clarke: I shall mention the chief constable of Norfolk if the hon. Gentleman wants, but the fact is that the problems in King's Lynn have arisen without any of the proposed changes being made.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Will the Home Secretary come to the London borough of Havering and speak to local residents, police, councillors and accident and emergency department staff? The fallout from the largest concentration of late-night entertainment centres outside the west end, in Romford, monopolises the services of the police and the local hospital. I guarantee that he will not find anyone who wants licensing hours extended.

Mr. Clarke: I shall not accept the hon. Lady's kind invitation to Havering and Romford. However, I visit many places and discuss with people precisely those questions.

David Davis: The Home Secretary properly attempts to distinguish 24-hour licensing and binge drinking, but the former has two effects. The first is to allow perfectly normal, reasonable, law-abiding people more time for their leisure and pleasure, and we all agree with that—there is no argument between us. The other effect, shown by the operational evidence from Nottinghamshire, where Stephen Green is chief constable—the sort of evidence that has persuaded the right hon. Gentleman's own advisers—is that it creates the opportunity for further binge drinking. If he has answers to or effective
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methods of dealing with the problem of binge drinking, the opportunity opens up for a safer extension to 24-hour opening.

Mr. Clarke: I agree with part of that statement. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that in places like Nottingham city centre we need a package of measures to deal with the ill. I know about Nottingham—many people have spoken to me about the situation there and I have discussed it with the chief constable. I understand that we need a set of measures to target that particular problem in a focused way. That is why, last Friday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety announced a set of measures to do just that, including the establishment of alcohol disorder zones. I cannot predict what will happen, but I would be surprised if Nottingham did not fall within the relevant category. Also announced were powers to enable the immediate closure of establishments—for making under-age sales, for example—and to tackle irresponsible promotions. We shall also review the penalties for alcohol-related disorder. Why? Because with each of those measures, we acknowledge the truth of the right hon. Gentleman's words: it is necessary to move away from any idea of accommodating the problem of alcohol-fuelled disorder and towards its eradication through the type of measure that I have suggested. The key point is that those measures stand in their own terms. They are designed to deal with the situation in Romford, Nottingham and other areas, irrespective of the issues relating to licensing flexibility.

Mr. Mark Field: Does the Home Secretary not understand that having to announce all those new initiatives to deal with the problems in all our town centres under the current regime makes nonsense of liberalising the drinking laws? What is the point of the initiatives, if not to deal with the present situation?

Mr. Clarke: The aim of the police, including the chief constables of Nottingham and of Norfolk and the other chief constables with whom I have discussed the problems, is to make an impact on binge drinking through the type of measure that I have announced. That is why the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers accompanied my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the platform of last Friday's press conference to commit ACPO as a whole to implementing the measures and making them work. I can tell the House confidentially—[Laughter.] I know that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden is concerned about confidentiality. The principal reason for the concern that is rightly adduced by some senior police officers was simple: there were resources issues and those who were causing alcohol-related crime—establishments in the areas in which binge drinking was common—were not, in the view of the police, making a sufficient contribution. We have addressed that problem; the measures announced by my right hon. Friend last Friday have to be carried through, but they explicitly answer those concerns.
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Such measures reinforce the implementation of the recommendations in our alcohol harm reduction strategy. Those include close working with industry to draft a code of practice covering on and off trade and producers. As an aside, I observe that some of the problems to which the right hon. Gentleman referred are as much the result of off-licence purchases as of on-licence purchases. That problem needs to be dealt with, and alcohol disorder zones give us the powers to tackle it. The code will be supported by an accreditation scheme that incentivises good practice and highlights poor operators. We are working on making the sensible drinking message easier and clearer, so that people can make informed choices, and on establishing a range of fixed penalty notices. The police will have powers to close immediately an area or premises where disorder is occurring or anticipated, or where there is excessive noise.

I emphasise that, thanks to the legislation, we have a unique opportunity in the fact that all licences are up for renewal in the coming six months. Today, I ask that all applicants be properly assessed by the local authority on the basis of advice from the police regarding their appropriateness to hold a licence to sell alcohol. We therefore have a new mechanism for review.

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