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The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Tessa Jowell): Along with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary I, too, welcome the debate. It provides an opportunity to deal with what are literally shoals of red herrings swirling around the issue. If a fraction of what some newspapers and Opposition Members are saying were true, I would not be defending these policies and nor, I suspect, would many of my right hon. and hon. Friends.
I start with where I think we have established a clear consensus, which is that in this country we have a severe problem with drink, drink-related crime and behaviour that is associated with people getting drunk. Throughout the country, alcohol-related disorder is rising. As many Members have described graphically, groups of yobs make some streets in some of our cities no-go areas at night. Too many of our young people have a drinking culture that encourages binge drinkingthe deliberate drinking of too much too quickly so as to get drunk. Rightly, there is public concern about that and right hon. and hon. Members reflect that concern.
I take seriously the claim of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis), which was repeated by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), that somehow the evidence that underpins our strategy has been tampered with. I commend to the House the interim analytical
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report, the research evidence that provided the background for the alcohol harm reduction strategy, which gives an unvarnished account of the harm that alcohol does in all its various ways.
There is the question of what fuels an increase in drinking. By and large, we drink less than some of our European counterparts. There is a debate among the experts, as rigorous examination of the various research will reveal. There is a debate about price, and the price of alcohol is falling in this country. The price of alcohol in supermarkets is much less than it is in a pub. It is possible for someone to get drunk for much less money if they buy alcohol from a supermarket or from some off-licences. There is a strong body of support for the belief that that is principally driving the increase in binge drinking and alcohol-related disorder.
Other evidence about the impact of opening times was obviously considered. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary set out clearly the evidence from the legislation in Scotland and the Isle of Man. There is also evidence of the impact of reduced consumption following the liberalisation of the licensing laws by the previous Government in 1988.
Tessa Jowell: I believe that there will be less drunkenness if we link the impact of flexibility and decisions made by local authorities in the knowledge of their local communities with the tough action that my hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety announced on Friday to tackle the yob crime and disorder that causes concern among Members on both sides of the House.
Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North) (Lab): Although I agree with the main thrust of Government policy, does my right hon. Friend agree that a major problem is caused by pubs and clubs continuing to sell alcohol to individuals who are obviously drunk? If we are going to tackle binge drinking, we need far more effective enforcement procedures in pubs and clubs.
Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend is right. There are two ways in which we intend to strengthen those procedures. First, it is an offence for a licensee to sell alcohol to someone who is drunk. By giving local authorities the resources for greater enforcement of the new powers, we intend to ensure that they will undertake inspections that will reveal the pubs and clubs where that is happening. We also intend to make that subject to a fixed penalty.
No one is claimingI am certainly notthat the Licensing Act alone will heal all the problems of alcohol and alcohol-related crime. However, we will not achieve a solution for the problems that we face without that Act, which is part of a bigger jigsaw of pieces that must be put in place if we are to make progress. The 2003 Act directly complements the alcohol harm reduction strategy, which was published last March and aims to reduce significantly the harm that alcohol causes. By
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linking the impact of the Licensing Act to public health education and to the targeted powers heralded in the alcohol harm reduction strategy for tackling disorder, we can begin to change the behaviour of young people. The strategy includes the development of a code of practice that addresses irresponsible sales promotions. Many young people drink too much too quickly as a result of promotions that encourage them to drink all they can for £9.99. Those promotions are designed to do nothing but encourage drunkenness. We can make responsible conduct of premises, which involves not promoting drink in that irresponsible way, a licence condition. We can also work with the industry, the best and responsible parts of which want an end to such promotions.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that some licensees already want to take up the mantle of responsibility? Over three nights, well over 6,000 young people visit Stockton town centre. Licensees have made a small additional payment to the police, who have agreed to respond quickly to incidents. In two months, there has been a 21 per cent. reduction in violent crime, and it is important that we all acknowledge that.
Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We do not need to wait for legislation to begin to take action. To her excellent example from Stockton, for which she has been a powerful advocate, I could add BANDBurnley against Night-Time DisorderBedford's Bedsafe, Camden's Glitterball Project, High Peak's Safer Pubs and Clubs, Leicester's NiteRIDER, Liverpool's Crystal Clear, Manchester's City Centre Safe, and Northumberland's Alcohol Awareness plus. All those examples will be familiar to hon. Members in all parts of the House and show how local authorities, publicans and licensees are getting together to solve the problem on a voluntary basis, because they know that such responsibility is good for their businesses.
Before recapping briefly what the new Act will do, let me make it clear what it will not do. It does not promote or encourage 24-hour drinking. That is a myth. It promotes flexible hours as a means of reducing the pressure of last orders. My hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) described vividly the risks that that involves. The legislation has been strengthened by our listening to my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who is so critical and who argued strongly for the powers that he set out, which are now included in the legislation.
The Act presumes that the vast majority of people should be treated like the adults that they are. It is wrong-headed for a Government to tell the entire
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population that they cannot be trusted to drink after 11 pm. Our role is to give adults the freedom they deserve, while giving the yobbish minority the rough and tough treatment that they deserve. Remember, the objectives of the Licensing Act are the prevention of crime and disorder, the prevention of public nuisance, public safety and the protection of children from harm. For the first time, democratic accountability will be at the heart of alcohol licensing. I can reassure the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) that he has got it wrong. I am happy to write to him to set out clearly the position of local councillors.
The Act does not just give new powers to local authorities. It empowers the community as a whole. It is astonishing that no previous Government thought to give local residents any say in how their local pub was run. We have done so. For the first time, local residents will have the opportunity to intervene not only when a new licence is being considered and any extension of hours is being proposed, but at any stage after it is granted. The Act also provides a new and expanded raft of powers to enable licensing authorities to respond to residents' concerns. They will be able to add new conditions to licences, restrict the opening hours, suspend licences for one day, a weekend or up to three months, require the removal of a designated premises supervisor, remove an entire licensable activity such as selling alcohol, or as a last resort, revoke a licence.
The Act strengthens police powers in respect of licensing and is tougher on crime and disorder and under-age sales, all of which are contributory factors to the town and city centre disorder that gives rise to such concern. The police have been consistent in wanting resources in support of new powers, but have recognised the potential benefits of flexible opening. Our message to the police is, "We are giving you the new powers and the resources. Now use them to promote the solutions to the problems that cause such concern."
There is an opportunity now for every single Member of this House to act on behalf of their constituents, because every single licence, from 7 February, will be coming up for renewal. The police have the power to object to a simple renewal of any licence. Local residents, councillors, Members of Parliament and area child protection authorities all have the power to object to any variation of the existing licence. Democracy is there, and I urge every Member of the House to use it. I am happy to reiterate in relation to local authorities my previous undertaking that the fee levels to fund enforcement and running the new system will be kept under constant review.
The answer to the problems that we have lies in local democracy, a more responsible drink industry and police with the power to take on the yobs. The problems have developed over years. This Government in this Licensing Act have put out a series of practical solutions that will change our town and city centres for the better. I urge the House to vote for the Government amendment.
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