The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Mr. Desmond Browne): I acknowledge that there have been some difficulties in Peterborough with the integration of asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers. However, community relations there are improving, as I saw when I visited Peterborough on 15 December to see how the Government's investment of just over £1.5 million in a £2.2 million programme of nine projects in Peterborough was working. The projects aim to join statutory and voluntary agencies to provide more cost-effective services for the benefit of the whole community, including asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers.
Mrs. Clark: Does the Minister agree that, instead of being an asylum hot spot, Peterborough has recently become a model for managing and controlling immigration properly? We have been greatly assisted by local employers such as Peter Boizot, the owner of the Great Northern hotel, who welcome these additions to the work force, and by the splendid New Link centre, which is funded by this Labour Government and provides vital help and support to all our new arrivals to Peterborough.
Mr. Browne: When I visited Peterborough on 15 December, it was clear to me that the council and others who were represented at an interesting meeting were proud of the way in which Peterborough had integrated asylum seekers, refugees and, indeed, migrant workers. There are many good examples of the benefits that migration can bring our communities in Peterborough. It is unfortunate that some of the circumstances there have been so badly misrepresented and that that has done so much damage to the community, but people are working together and moving in the right direction.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I understand that quite a large number of failed asylum seekers now reside in the Peterborough area. Has the Minister any idea how many there are and what plans has he to remove them?
Mr. Browne: The hon. Gentleman has raised an important issue. The removal of failed asylum seekers is a priority for me, as Minister with that responsibility, and for the Government. That is why I am pleased to be able to announce that, since 1997, we have been able to double the number of failed asylum seekers whom we have been able to remove from the country and that, because of steps we have takenincluding changes in the law, for instance in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004we are confident that we shall be able to increase the number further.
I am sorry that I cannot help the hon. Gentleman with the specifics of his question. The community in Peterborough did not know exactly how many failed asylum seekers there were. I acknowledged that this was an issue during our discussions, however, and we are working with the community to deal with it.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): We have recently raised to £80 the fine issued under fixed penalty notice for buying alcohol for those under 18. The Licensing Act 2003 will increase the maximum fine for purchasing alcohol for a minor from £1,000 to £5,000, as well as the maximum fine for selling alcohol to children.
Helen Jones: I welcome the provisions in the new Act, but as my hon. Friend will know, in parts of my constituency real problems of crime and disorder have been caused by people purchasing alcohol for youngsters, usually in return for a share of the proceeds. Can my hon. Friend assure me that she will monitor the new provisions carefully and ensure that the police and trading standards officers have enough resources to tackle the problem? Will she also monitor the fines issued by the courts to ensure that they are sufficient to deter those who are caught from offending again?
Caroline Flint: My hon. Friend has raised an important point about those who, on behalf of young people, go into licensed establishments such as bars, and let us not forget off-licences, supermarkets and the 7/11 on the corner of the street, because it is important to tackle them as well. We will consider monitoring those establishments and, following our consultation last week, we have announced that we will review the penalties for alcohol offences to establish whether they are robust enough. I hope that my hon. Friend will make a contribution to our further consultation.
The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (Ms Hazel Blears): Under existing licensing law, the police annually engage in over 1.6 million administrative licensing processes. That will be streamlined to around 170,000 under the Licensing Act 2003, which will result in a saving of up to £15 million annually. The Act will also give the police further powers to tackle alcohol-related disorder, for instance through introducing temporary or permanent reductions in trading hours.
Andrew Selous: Given that the United Kingdom has some of the worst binge drinking in Europe and that the police have expressed serious concern about the advent of 24-hour drinking, what reassurance can the Minister give that the police will have enough officers available between 2 am and 6 am when the Licensing Act is implemented?
"Extended licensing hours are not a concern for us. The problem exists now with all pubs and clubs closing at two set times, spilling out thousands of people onto our streets . . . We believe that by a more gradual dispersal of the crowds over a longer period of time, these problems would be significantly reduced."
However, he also welcomed the possibility that licensed premises would have to contribute not just to policing costs but to other local costs of disorder on our streets. That is a statement from the police that they are preparing to deal with the issues, and in fact they are dealing with them now.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I have recently heard allegations and received evidence that mini-markets at garages in my constituency are selling alcohol to under-age people. Does my hon. Friend agree that withdrawing those mini-markets' licence to sell alcohol would be the most effective way of stopping them doing that?
Ms Blears: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The transfer of the licensing regime to local authorities, which are very much in touch with their communities, should give them extra powers not just to limit hours but to review licences, to suspend them, and if necessary to withdraw them.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): Surely one of the best ways of saving police resources and public hassle is to prevent irresponsible people from getting licences in the first place. Can the Minister confirm that, under the new legislation, the council considering an application from an individual licensee is no longer allowed to take account of police intelligence on their conduct with regard to selling alcohol? It is not even allowed to take account of convictions in that regard if they have expired.
Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman should know that when councils consider applications for licences, they will be able to listen to representations from the police, from local residents and from others in the area. As I understand it, in the past, courts could look at taking away a licence only where someone was convicted for a second or subsequent time of serving to under-age youngsters. Under the new regime, they will be able to consider doing so where someone has been convicted for the first time. Therefore, the powers will be even stronger.
Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): A lot of the focus has been on 24-hour drinking in respect of the new Act, but does my hon. Friend agree that the provision to give local people a say not only in licensing policy but in individual applications is welcome? It has been welcomed wholeheartedly in local government, most recently in the north-east by the new Liberal Democrat chair of Newcastle city council's licensing committee, Anita Lower.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The transition from the magistrates court to the local authorities is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to look at
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every licence over the next few months. The process from now until November, when those licences are being reviewed, is crucial to the agenda of tackling binge drinking. I say to the local authorities concerned: look at every licence carefully and take into account what local people and the police are saying. We must get a better mix in town and city centres, so that premises appeal to a range of people rather than appealing solely to young people and encouraging them to drink irresponsibly.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): How can the Minister be so sanguine about the prospect of 24-hour drinking? She prayed in aid the president of the Police Superintendents Association to my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) but she will have heard the comments of Sir John Stevens and the comments of police constables on the beat, who say that it is hard enough tackling one person who is drunk, without hordes and hordes of people being drunk. We heard earlier about the problems in large cities. In the city of Lichfield, we have a problem, too.
Ms Blears: I am sure that there is a problem in Lichfield and other places. It is not confined to the inner cities. Rural market towns and very small areas face similar problems of disorder fuelled by alcohol. I am not complacent at all. I recognise police concerns about the need to deploy officers on the streets, but if the police work with local authorities, with the newly licensed door supervisors at the premises, and with the many public sector people who are on the streets, we can help to get a grip on the problem. We must ensure that the industry itself has a more responsible attitude towards drinking. I am delighted that some of the big chains, including Wetherspoon and Yates's, are outlawing irresponsible promotions. That is an extremely good sign, and I would encourage many more licensees and retailers to do the same.