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Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): Why has the number of convictions for being drunk and disorderly fallen from about 40,000 in 1984 to about 25,000 20 years later? Are the existing laws not being enforced properly?
Mr. Clarke: I think that there is an issue of enforcement generally. The Bill's key message is that powers need to be enforced more effectively, but we must also ensure that the police have the powers that they need to deal with offences. Part of the problem, as I have said, is behaviour in certain localities in towns and cities.
It is difficult to blame a particular pub, club or off-licence for disorder in public places, but that does not mean that premises can deny all responsibility. We want the industry to take collective responsibility for the problem. The Bill proposes a new power to designate alcohol disorder zones where there is a significant problem with alcohol-related disorder. Local authorities will be able to impose charges on pubs, clubs and off-licences within the boundaries of the zone if they fail to implement an action plan designed to tackle the problem.
Let me stress that the front-page story in the Daily Express suggesting that certain kinds of institution will be excluded from that power is entirely wrong. Clause 12(7) explains why. It is necessary for us to deal in this way with all the generators of alcohol abuse in a particular locality. I should make it clear, however, that alcohol disorder zones will be a measure of last resort. They would be used if licensed premises in the area were unwilling to take steps to deal with the problems voluntarily. The focus is on ensuring that action is taken to change the situation, and we believe that the threat of charges would be a powerful incentive for premises to participate voluntarily. The action plan will be tailored to individual local problems and solutions, and we will set up a practitioner-level working group to consider what might be a typical example. That is why the Local Government Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers have welcomed our proposals.
Mr. Clarke: I think it is because the partnerships between local authorities, police and licensees are not anywhere near as strong as they need to be in all parts of the country to achieve the policing that the hon. Gentleman describes. One of the major arguments for the Bill is that it would create that sense of corporate responsibility. I believe that this is the way forward.
Mr. David Jones: Does the Home Secretary agree that much of the disorder on our streets is caused not only by those who are intoxicated with alcohol but by those who are intoxicated with a cocktail of drugs and alcohol, and that nothing in the Bill does anything to address the drugs element that is causing disorder on our streets? Does he agree that the downgrading of cannabis was a retrograde step and should be amended?
Mr. Clarke: The drugs issues were addressed in the Drugs Bill, which became an Act at the end of the last Parliament. Obviously, the relationship that the hon. Gentleman describes exists, but we have decided, rightly, to focus in this legislation on alcohol-related aspects of disorder.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con):
Further to the inquiry of my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones), may I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he should not lose sight of the importance of the drugs point? As I understand it, two thirds of the Government's flagship drug rehabilitation places have been terminated without the individual participant in
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them completing his or her term, yet the Government envisage an expansion in the number of places. Will he confirm, if he is intending to go ahead with that expansion, that he has in mind the length of time that each placement should last and how he intends to ensure that participants complete their term?
Mr. Clarke: First, let me say that this Government have given more attention to the issue of drug abuse than any previous Government by a very long way. We have tackled the issue both through legislation and by making the necessary resources available. However, I do not believe that we have solved the problem by a long way. There is a great deal to do, as has been described, but I will not debate the drugs issue in the context of this legislation, which is to do with alcohol and guns and knives.
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problem of alcohol-related disorder appears to affect all cities, many suburban areas and a large number of smaller towns? Does he therefore expect most right hon. and hon. Members to have alcohol disorder zones declared in their constituencies?
Mr. Clarke: I hope that the answer to that question is no, not because I disagree with my right hon. Friend's analysisthere is an issue in most of our constituencies to some degree or other, and certainly in a great city such as Southampton and othersbut because the aim of our approach is to change the culture significantly. I hope that the kind of approach that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood described in her intervention is the kind of approach that will be taken up and down the country, reinforced by the Licensing Act 2003, giving the local authority, together with the police, responsibility for dealing with the matter. If what my right hon. Friend described happened throughout the country, I would regard that as a failure. It would be a success if we had a relatively small number of alcohol disorder zones and changed behaviour in towns, cities and suburbs throughout the country in the way everyone wants. I am certain that that is the right direction to go in.
I welcome the proposals that the Home Secretary has put before us and has just outlined, although I suspect that the close working between the local authority, the police and the licensed trade in Brighton and Hove may mean that we will have no alcohol disorder zones. However, once these measures are on the statute book, will he liaise closely with the Lord Chancellor? I have in mind the fact that, in relation to antisocial behaviour ordersI think that there is a parallelthere is concern still that magistrates are perhaps not as aware as they might be of the full range of their powers. I suspect that,
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when this Bill becomes law, they may not be fully aware of the range of their powers when these orders are breached.
Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to respond to such a well informed contribution. I certainly will liaise with the Lord Chancellor. As with ASBOs, ensuring that everyone understands exactly what the legislation does and how it is to be enforced is critical to its success. As I implied in my answers to interventions earlier, the single most important ambition we have in relation to this part of the Bill is to change behaviour. I agree that, in Blackpool, as in Brighton and Hove, there is a focus on solving the problem effectively. I hope that the Bill will provide more strength to the elbow of those seeking to do that.
Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend accept that a change in attitude and behaviour is taking place in Stockton, where there is a voluntary agreement between the local authority and Cleveland police? In two months, crimes of violence were reduced by more than 20 per cent. One can see that the change in behaviour is encouraging people to respect and enjoy the night time economy.
Mr. Clarke: I accept what my hon. Friend says. I was fortunate enough to visit her in Stockton a couple of months ago for a seminar on domestic violence, which brings to mind another important point. A central reason for achieving the change in behaviour to which she refers is to reduce domestic violence, which is so often alcohol-fuelled. That point was made by participants at the seminar and I am happy to give credit on that specific example.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): Does the Home Secretary agree that there may be a lack of incentive for good landlords if they are treated the same as the bad landlords in a disorder zone?
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