|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Andrew Turner: There are further consequences in terms of the number of admissions to hospital accident and emergency units, of which I understand 70 per cent. are rooted in alcohol. Most instances of domestic violence are also rooted in alcohol, and many take place at night.
Charles Hendry: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Some time ago, I spent a night with the Sussex ambulance service and my respect for the people doing such work knows no bounds. Every single call responded to that night, bar one, was related to drunkenness or drugs; only that one call involved an immediate medical problem. Such people are right in the front line, and they also have to deal with very aggressive and dangerous behaviour.
We need tougher action to be taken, and I welcome what the Home Secretary said about tightening up on the sale of drink to people below the legal age. But I hope that the Government will go further, and that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will say something about how we tackle the false identity documents that so many young people possess these days. Not only do some young people photocopy
25 Jan 2005 : Column 203
their passport and then change the date of birth electronically, thereby producing what appears to be a copy of a legitimate passport; they can also get false ID cards online. To do so, they simply give a date of birth, and no verification of it is sought. So those who are doing their best to be responsible are sometimes thwarted by young people who carry false ID cards.
The people who bear the brunt of these problems are of course the police, whose concerns have already been discussed at some length today. Just last week, the chairman of the Sussex police authority wrote to the Home Secretary. In that letter, copies of which were provided for local Members of Parliament, he expressed concern about the impact that such changes will have on police officer recruitment and training in particular. He said:
"It has been widely acknowledged that if people are drinking longer and later, our towns and cities will be busier and people will be drinking more. The result will be more people under the influence of alcohol or drunk, and this will result in more crime and disorder.
The implications for Police Forces in terms of additional workload are significant and officers will have to be diverted from other policing priorities and activities to undertake enforcement activity against those who are drunk and disorderly.
However, I am particularly disturbed by recent comments from ministers that simply introducing a levy on the drinks industry will pay for the extra cost of policing the effects of binge drinking. Of course the industryas a major contributor to the problemshould meet the lion's share of the costs, but these comments make huge assumptions that Police Forces will easily be able to recruit police officers and attract young people to a career which fundamentally involves policing anti-social, violent binge drinkers."
The chairman has put his finger on an extremely important issue. The nature of policing in our communities will change, and the police will be spending more time dealing with some of the most aggressive, violent and rowdy people. At the moment, such behaviour is contained within a certain period, following closing time. However, if such changes go through, that behaviour will be spread over a much longer period and the police will have to deal with more aggressive and drunk people. We need to take this issue very seriously indeed.
I believe that the Government want to push these changes through at such speed because they want to appear cool, but these changes are neither cool nor clever. In my role as shadow Minister with responsibility for young people, I probably go to more youth clubs, schools, colleges and universities than most Members do. I know from the young people I meet there that their first concern is crime and their safety. That is not surprising, because young people are more likelytwice as likely as the average personto be the victims of crime than any other section of the community. They are also more concerned about crime. Their fear of crime is greater, which is not surprising, given that their experience of it is so much greater than the average. They want to be able to go out and enjoy themselves, and they want the Government to clamp down on alcohol-linked antisocial behaviour.
25 Jan 2005 : Column 204
It is therefore extremely important that the Government think again and provide some extra time, so that the issue of flexible opening hours can be addressedwe all agree that it must be addressedand that the urgent issues of alcohol-related crime, binge drinking and antisocial behaviour can be dealt with first.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Let us for once be wise before the event. The Government cannot claim that they have not been warned by Members on all sides of the Houselet alone by the police, the medical profession and smaller, independent, family-run licensed businessesabout the consequences of the Licensing Act 2003. I hope that we can put its implementation on hold until we have a sensible strategy on antisocial behaviour and binge drinking. To do anything else would be naive to the point of negligence. Simply Europeanising our drinking habits and licensing laws will not instil in our young people Mediterranean attitudes to alcohol consumption.
I want to explain what lies at the heart of my objections to this legislation, and I should first point out that I do not support the idea of a nanny state. Reference has been made the problems that exist in London's west end. Many bars in Soho and Covent Garden already have staggered licensing hours; indeed, the same is true of much of central London. The myth has arisen that this country has a pre-first world war licensing regime. The hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) referred to the brooding presence of Lloyd George in debates on licensing matters, but licensing hours, particularly in our larger towns and cities, have already developed well beyond those days. My own constituency contains a number of bars and pubs that remain open well beyond 11 o'clock; indeed, some remain open until as late as 3 o'clock in the morning. I am afraid that flexible licensing has not made a great deal of difference to much of the behaviour on our streets.
I must confess that I am instinctively a libertarian: I do not like imposing lots of rules and regulations. I can understand part of the Government's thinking, and it is an important part. They want to take a much more flexible attitude, and I only wish that we could rely on many of our citizens behaving responsibly. I want to discuss my own constituency not because it is entirely unusualthat said, Westminster has more alcohol licences than any other borough in the countrybut because it underlines the point that without that sense of responsibility, we cannot ensure that we will create the sort of world in which we would like to live.
In Soho and Covent Gardena part of London that I share with the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)the great majority of the residential population are not necessarily there out of choice. I have always believed that those who buy a property next door to a football ground or a pub have to expect a certain amount of disruption. In a previous life, I was a member of the planning committee of the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which often debated such matters. It struck me then that to buy a property knowing that certain problems would arise because it was near a large entertainment venue, and then to complain about such disruption, was the
25 Jan 2005 : Column 205
height of selfishness. However, some 60 per cent. of the population of Soho and some 70 per cent. of the population of Covent Gardenmany thousands of peopleare living in some form of social housing. They have very little choice about where they live, and many of them constitute some of the most vulnerable in our society. They are trying to bring up their families in the face of appalling disorder.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) rightly referred to the debris that we see on our streets. Indeed, we see it day in, day out on the streets of Soho and Covent Garden. In addition to rubbish, urine and vomit, we sometimes come across used needles and the other detritus that is part and parcel of a "good night out". When the young people living in inner-city London discover such detritus outside their schools, churches and church hallsthe places that constitute the very heart of our inner-city communitiesthat creates an extremely difficult situation.
It is often forgotten that places such as Leicester square have a thriving residential population. Some 10,000 people live in Soho and Covent Garden, which combined constitute an area of some two and a half square miles. We need to encourage vibrant residential populations not just within London, however, but within all our cities. For the first time in two centuries, inner-city populations are rising in places such as Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. That is greatly to be welcomed, but we need the civilising force that a genuine sense of community would provide.
I am not against the alcohol trade at all. In Standing Committee, many of the Act's most vocal supporters came from the smaller, family-run outfits, who felt that they were being driven out of central London. One of the greatest pities is that the larger alcohol and entertainment businesses have little stake in our communities and therefore little sense of the needs of inner-city residential populations. As several hon. Members have pointed out, they are able to employ the most expensive lawyers to ensure that they maintain their licences.
I am not against young people having a good time either. I suspect that I am the youngest hon. Member in the Chamber at the momentalthough I am not as young as I should like to think, having already celebrated my 40th birthday. However, the selfish and loutish behaviour evident in our towns and cities is simply unacceptable. We should try to cultivate civility, good manners and consideration. In addition, the inner cities should be places where families can thrive, as well as places where people both old and young can enjoy the available resources. We need to ensure that a sense of community runs from cradle to grave.
While we are in the business of exploding some myths, there are a few others that I would like to consign to oblivion. To put it charitably, the Prime Minister could be said to have been inexact in his recollection of events when he argued at last week's Prime Minister's Question Time that the Conservative party was jumping on a bandwagon, having previously supported this Act. That is not the case: we had a robust debate in Standing Committee, and we also opposed the legislation on Third Reading. We divided the Committee umpteen times, and our opposition to the Act has gained many third-party endorsements.
25 Jan 2005 : Column 206
The boorishness and vulgarity promoted by many members of the celebrity media shame our cities and towns, but we also face the unedifying spectacle of a Government in a wild panic as they try to close down what they see to be a public relations disaster. The hapless rearguard action being led by the Home Office and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is rather pathetic. Since last weekend, we have heard much rhetoric about banning orders, on-the-spot fines and the "three strikes and you're out" response. That rhetoric is getting louder and brasher, but as ever with this Government, it is all about spin. The Government are more concerned about getting headlines than controlling the real problem that faces us.
How in heaven's name can any of the new rules be enforced if we do not have the necessary police and transport infrastructure? We asked those questions two years ago, when the Bill was in Committee, and it is unfortunate that we are no further forward in ensuring that we have that infrastructure. It is all very well to have endless rules and regulations on the statute book, but they will have no value if we cannot enforce them through tough and effective policing.
The astronomical proposed increase in flexible licence fees may help local authorities recoup some of the administrative costs that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been so reluctant to underwrite. However, what will be the cost in the longer term? Ministers must understand that the legislation will have a most serious effect on small, responsible, family-run bars, restaurants and pubsthe very establishments that we should be looking to encourage, as they would ensure the civilised nature of our towns and cities to which I referred earlier.
I fear that the agenda will be set instead by the all-powerful alcohol industry and its close cousins, the large-scale entertainment operators. They were the driving forces behind much of this legislation, and no doubt they will become handsome contributors to the Labour party's coffers.
I could say a lot more, but I know that time is running out. I wanted to touch on the point so ably made by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras about the many undertakings that have been swept away. They worked well and provided an effective mechanism for allowing residents, local councillors and businesses to have a real say under the old procedure. I regret their loss.
I shall end as I began: I am not a killjoy, and I do not support restrictive, nanny-state regulations. I wish that everyone could be responsible, civilised and courteous, but we must face the facts in respect of our society. What sort of cities should we aspire to have in 20 or 30 years? Do we want there to be no-go zones? Do we want there to be a commercial free for all in inner cities bereft of a residential population? Do we want Governments of whatever colour enforcing on a daily basis banning orders on drinking, on-the-spot fines for people roaming the streets late at night, and implementing the "three strikes and you're out" policy?
The lesson of regeneration in the cities to which I referred earlier is that it is vital that our cities have vibrant and articulate residential populations. I spend a lot of time speaking to residents associations in the villages that make up central London. The people to
25 Jan 2005 : Column 207
whom I speak are passionately proud of their sense of community and want to develop it. I want our cities to be wonderful places for families, but any sensible observer would concede that this Act, as it stands, undermines their very fragile balance. I beseech the Government to think again, and to work to get the legislation right.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|