Mr. Clarke: First, there is a clear difference between the way in which the law treats good and bad landlords, in the sense that the bad landlords will have a series of sanctions that apply against them, and rightly so, while the good landlord will not. Secondly, it is important to stimulate every landlord, good or bad, to recognise that the welfare of an area depends on all landlords working together to drive out the bad and encourage the good. I believe that the Bill will help with that.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Will the Home Secretary clarify the role of the armed forces in relation to the police, as we are getting mixed messages on exactly what they are supposed to do? Would it not set a bad precedent if we saw the armed forces patrolling with the police on our streets?
The hon. Gentleman is referring to a story in the newspapers whose source I am still trying to discover. I do not recognise the descriptions in the newspapers; not an uncommon experience for me. However, the military policerightly, in certain circumstancesare active in certain communities in
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terms of policing individuals in the military. I know the story to which he refers but I cannot give him any help with it.
David Davis: Would the Home Secretary let us know the outcome of his investigation into this matter? The Sunday Telegraph reported that there had been a pilot study in Royston in Hertfordshire. If so, I should have thought that it would be available to his Department almost immediately.
Mr. Clarke: In a spirit of co-operation, as always, I will be happy to write to the right hon. Gentleman with the results of my investigations when they take place. However, those investigations cannot be into the ways of news reporters, even on such august journals as The Sunday Telegraph, with which the right hon. Gentleman is keen to curry favour at the moment. But I certainly will write to him.
The fourth measure relating to alcohol disorder zones, but also to knives and guns, is the fulfilment of the commitment that will require those pubs and clubs that are at risk to search for knives and guns on entry to a club. This is a key step in our work to change the culture of carrying offensive weapons and will serve as a deterrent. The licence review provisions in the Bill supplement existing arrangements in the Licensing Act to expedite reviews of premises, and the licensing authority can act quickly to deal with the situation. We have not restricted the provision just to searching for weapons and glass. We want to provide an effective power that can be used flexibly, but it is important that licensees have more powers to deal with the situation and that the police have more powers to ensure that they do.
Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): The Home Secretary will agree that the measures in the Bill, worthy as they may be, will only work if they can be enforced. Will he look again at the crippling burden of paperwork on our police officers so that they can get on with enforcing these measures?
The fifth measure in the Bill is the crime of persistently selling alcohol to children. The House has grappled for some years and on many different occasions with the unlawful sale of alcohol to children. Since 1988, progressive changes to the licensing law have attempted to create more effective powers to deter such irresponsible retailing. However, the number of children under 16 who consume alcohol has not changed significantly since 1988. About a quarter drink alcohol, but in one important sense at least, the position is deteriorating: those young people who do drink are drinking more. In the past decade, the average number of units of alcohol consumed per week by such children has almost doubledfrom 5.3 units in 1990 to 9.8 units in 2001. That should concern us all.
The responsible parts of the alcohol industry, which helped us to establish enforcement campaigns such as last summer's alcohol misuse enforcement campaign, are as disturbed as we are by those results. Alcohol is
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obviously a contributory factor in raising levels of youth crime. This Bill will create a more robust deterrent to unlawful sales by threatening the profits of irresponsible businesses, rather than just the individuals making the sales. So the Bill will create a new offence of persistently selling alcohol to children if, on three or more different occasions in a period of up to three consecutive months, alcohol is unlawfully sold on the same premises to a person aged under 18. The penalty for the new offence on summary conviction will be a fine not exceeding £10,000. Where the offender is the licence holder, the premises' licence could be suspended for up to three months.
But the Bill goes further than that. On detecting an alleged offence, it will be open to the police and trading standards officers to serve a closure notice requiring the licence holder to cease sales of alcohol on a specified date for 48 hours, or face trial in the courts.
Mr. Llwyd: The right hon. Gentleman is being very generous in giving way. I greatly welcome what he has just said, but will he reconsider the question of allowing the Portman Group voluntarily to regulate the advertising of alcopops?
Mr. Clarke: I greatly respect the work of the Portman Group, which has worked very hard over the yearsit is true that it is funded by the industryto reach the position where we have more responsible drinking generally. On regulating the sales of particular drinks, however, it is better if possible to proceed by way of voluntary, rather than statutory, arrangements. There are some who do not agree with that approach and perhaps the hon. Gentleman is among them, but I think it better in principle to establish a set of voluntary agreements. In fact, the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Hazel Blears), through her own advocacy, secured some progress on this issue and I hope that we can move further in that direction. We should take that as our starting point, rather than going further and trying statutorily to define the types of drink that can and cannot be sold.
Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): In addition to the Bill's provisions on dealing with those who persistently sell alcohol to children, will my right hon. Friend undertake to look in Committee at the penalties for those who purchase alcohol for minors? In my constituency, most of our problems are caused by kids standing outside off-licences and getting someone to go in and buy alcohol for them.
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend's point is powerful and trueI have seen precisely that happen in some parts of the country. I can confirm that in Committee we will consider whether there is a better way to target penalties in that regard.
The second major issue that the Bill addresses is the abuse of weapons, particularly guns and knives. Again, there are five specific measures to which I want to draw attention, the first of which concerns using someone to mind a weapon. It is already an offence illegally to possess an unlawful firearm, and to carry knives and other weapons in public without reasonable excuse. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 introduced a mandatory
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minimum sentence of five years for illegal possession of an unlawful firearm, but the truth is that offenders can skirt the law by using other peopletheir friends, family or siblingsto carry their weapons or to hide them for them, in a manner not dissimilar to that which my hon. Friend referred to in respect of the purchase of alcohol. As well as such a person's being put at risk of harm from the weapon, they are also at risk of prosecution, while the offender escapes scot-free. In cases where children are used, they may be at risk of the longer-term harm of involvement in gun and knife crime, as a result of such early association with weapons.
It is clear that we need to close this loophole, so the Bill will make it an offence to use a person to hide or to carry a knife or firearm. In addition, if a young person under the age of 18 has been used, it must be regarded as an aggravating factor, which will affect the length of the sentence handed down. The penalties for this offence will be in line with those already existing for possession and send a very clear message that we will not tolerate the possession of such weapons in our society and that passing them on to another person, particularly if that person is a child, will not leave someone in the clear.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): If, as the Home Secretary says, it is rightI am sure that it isthat using a young person to mind one of these weapons is an aggravating factor, is there not a case for applying an even more severe sentence for such an offence than would apply for mere possession?