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We do not realise the profound impact of crime arising directly from the use of alcohol. The British crime survey produced a good special report on alcohol-related assaultsI am not sure whether that is the report to which several hon. Members have referred. The most recent figures, which are for 1999, projected that 1.2 million incidents had occurred, although not all were reported to the police. Although those incidents involved a small proportion of the population, the report showed some serious profiles.
More than half the assaults left the victim with a form of injury. There was a strong link with age, with the group most at risk of assault being 16 to 19-year-olds. There was also a strong link with gender because some
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90 per cent. of alcohol-related assaults were committed by men only. Five per cent. of assaults were committed by women and 5 per cent. by mixed groups. The biggest single group on which assaults were committed was strangers. About 320 alcohol-related assaults represented domestic violence, which is a major problem. Although men are more likely to be hit by a drunken stranger, women are twice as likely to be hit by a drunk whom they know. We must think about how we can cut violent crime, and especially domestic violence, by dealing with problems involved with drinking.
When the Bill's provisions come into force, we must avoid the situation that occurred with antisocial behaviour orders when local authorities were slow to take up their powers. I hope that local authorities will be encouraged to take up the powers in the Bill to ensure that people can reclaim their town centres from the drinking venues and the behaviour that we have seen.
I have written to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about the problem of so-called happy slapping. I am worried about the way in which that horrible new craze of a crime is being treated, especially because of incidents that have been raised with me in my constituency. It is not the case that only young people and school kids are doing it, because there is evidence that older people are committing the offence to get pictures of children on their mobile phones. I wondered whether guidance can be issued so that such an action is treated as not only an assault, but a form of child abuse, which would mean that its seriousness could be reflected by the way in which it was treated by the police and the courts.
I know that the matter does not lend itself immediately to legislation, but I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety will say something about the way in which the offence should be treated. Unfortunately people abuse new technology in all sorts of extraordinary ways. It seems that the crime has come out of nowhere to become a problem not only in schools, but because older people are hitting children and compounding that by taking pictures of the incident, which I regard as a form of child abuse.
The Bill will substantially improve many of my constituents' quality of life by dealing with crime, and especially crime involving 16 to 19-year-olds. It will do a lot to reduce some of the worst crimes experienced by women and make it possible for people like myself, who are no longer under 25, to take our families into town and enjoy a night out without having to worry about the behaviour that has unfortunately marred too many of our towns.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): I give a general welcome to the Bill, but there is a lot of devil in the detail, so much careful work will be required in Committee. There seems to be consensus in the House about the problem, but not complete consensus about the cure proposed in the Bill.
I have some concerns about drink banning orders because they will once again move the problem on instead of dealing with the cause. I would like a study of why people drink themselves silly on Friday and Saturday nights, as has been suggested.
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Stephen Hesford: Does the hon. Lady accept that a historical reason why people drink themselves silly is last orders? They get drink down their necks at last orders before piling out on to the street, so one of the aims of the Licensing Act 2003 is to deal with that culture.
Lynne Featherstone: I accept that people drink themselves silly to get to last orders, but they also do so during happy hours, so the hon. Gentleman's point does not fully explain why that happens. There should be a pause for thought about 24-hour licensing, although the extension is a good idea for those who behave in a civilised manner. The hon. Gentleman's point does not address the reason why people drink themselves into oblivion early in the evening before continuing on their journey by going clubbing.
Ms Abbott: Does the hon. Lady agree that last orders is not the heart of the problem? There is something distinctive about the British drinking culture because the British go out to drink themselves into oblivion, while people of other countries and cultures drink more for pleasure.
Lynne Featherstone: I agree with the hon. Lady that there seems to be a British malaise. Additionally, people seem to have an inability to feel the cold when inebriated because they often go round in very little clothing at such times.
I understand the idea behind alcohol disorder zones because Hornsey and Wood Green has good voluntary organisations called clubwatch and pubwatch that work together to create exactly what I think that the Government are after. I think that the Home Secretary misunderstood what I said before about this matter. I am worried that, although the law treats good and bad landlords differently, alcohol disorder zones will not do so. Although I agree with the principle that the polluter pays, the charge will be levied equally across the board. I wonder whether the local authority should be able to vary the levy according to the behaviour of individual landlords. Will the local authority be able to use the money for purposes such as cleansing, because males seem to have a technical problem when there is a lot of alcohol involved?
I welcome the Government's proposals on imitation weapons, which are an abomination. I have served on the Metropolitan Police Authority for the past five years and visited SO19, where I saw a room containing a range of exact and precise imitations. No police officer should have to make a split-second decision about whether such weapons are genuine. The police have a training video that puts people in a crime scene so that they can make such a decision, but I would not know which way to choose, so I welcome the innovation.
I questioned the Home Secretary earlier about why the Government propose to change the penalty for carrying an imitation firearm from six months to 12 months, because, unless that extra six months leads to a measurable difference, the proposal becomes gesture politics. Is that increase correct or should it be greater? The carrying of imitation weapons is serious, especially if they are used to frighten the public or commit robbery or crime, so we need to examine the matter more closely.
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There were three stabbings between 1 and 8 June in Hornsey and Wood Green and our neighbouring constituency of Tottenham. Although I understand the Government's desire to raise the minimum age at which knives can be sold, I am not sure that that is the cure. We must consider the parity between sentencing for knife and gun crime. I said in my recent maiden speech that guns and knives do not just blight lives, but end lives. There is a malaise among young people. Guns and knives are not simply fashion accessories, but status symbols. People in areas of London and parts of my constituency aspire to criminality. Although the Bill addresses the need to be tough on crime, what, to coin a phrase, about the causes?
In summary, I admire the Government's attempt to send a cultural message to shift society, if that is what they are doing. Some of the great social shifts have been achieved as a result of legislation, such as the drink-driving laws and laws on wearing seat belts in cars. However, legislation was not enough on its own. It worked in conjunction with a huge effort on campaigning and advertising. I am old enough to remember "Clunk-click every trip." It is unacceptable to get drunk in a pub and step into a car without people looking askance and I feel loose if I drive off without my seat belt on because using it is embedded in my behaviour.
If the Government are sending a message that people drinking themselves into oblivion is wrong, there has to be an enormous campaign to back that up. One of the difficulties that they wander into is that too many laws and too many changes from what is a civil law to a criminal law mean that there are too many messages. They have to be clear, specific, targeted and focused on how they change society for the better. We are talking abut twin evils. They need addressing, which the Government are doing.
Along with the Tory and Labour parties, I co-hosted a public discussion with the author Michael Jacobson, who has written a book on downsizing prisons. The basic thesis is that, as we reduce the prison population by finding other mechanisms for dealing with crimerehabilitation, justice panels and so onthe corresponding effect is that crime drops, which means that the prison population drops again. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) said that the Liberal Democrats were against the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. At the discussion, both Tory and Labour Members said how much we needed to deal with the causes of crime. We were attacked for saying that the best way to treat a woman for a first offence of shoplifting was not to put her in prison, but that is not being soft on crime.
The Bill will reduce the number of incidents only temporarily if we do not deal with the causes. We are not soft on crime. We are tough on crime, but we are also interested in helping people. Tougher laws, more laws and longer sentences are a failure of the administration of justice. It is a cry for help from the people whom we represent to do more than just create additional laws.
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