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Mr. Llwyd: Definitely. Clearly, if such a scheme works in Scotland, it can be emulated south of the border and in Wales and introduced as best practice. I hope there will be a dialogue on the subject.
What causes me greatest concern is the various provisions concerning drunkenness. I am the first to admit that there is a problem; I would be foolish to deny it. We know that in 200203 44 per cent. of violent offences were committed by people who were drunk. However, we are still shy of examining the causes. I have said many times before and I will say again that drinks companies market alcopops to youngsters. Youngsters enjoy themselves, and why not? They drink the stuff and within a short time get terribly drunk. The problems follow from there.
That is not the responsible sale of alcohol. I do not believe that it is right to leave the Portman Group in charge of operations in that regard. At some point some form of legislation will be needed. I do not want to prevent youngsters enjoying themselves, but the vast majority of young people in our town centres are probably far more drunk than they want to be, because alcopops are so easy to drink.
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I note that the Bill deals with another hobbyhorse of minethe existing offence of selling alcohol to a person who is drunk, and an increase in the fine. Good. Let us hope that from now on the provision will be enforced, which has not been the case up till now.
Let us consider the existing provisions on drunkenness. It is an offence to be drunk and disorderly. Dispersal orders were provided for under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced antisocial behaviour orders. Community or suspended sentences may have an exclusion requirement among their conditions. If all those were properly used, would we need a drink banning order? We often speak about legislating when there is not strictly a need for it. No doubt I will be corrected if I am wrong, but I pose the question whether there is a need for further legislation. If we are to ratchet up the penalties for public drunkenness, there must be a real need for it. We should not find a need simply because we are not enforcing the existing law.
I am sure there is a need for alcohol disorder zones, but I hope the provision will not be used as a blunt instrument. The British Beer and Pub Association is extremely concernedit would be, wouldn't itabout the provision. I believe that the "polluter pays" principle is fine, but many responsible licensees will be tarred with the same brush as those who are not. I am not sure that that is acceptable. There is an argument that there are already plenty of laws in place to achieve the desired aim. The problem may be that there are not enough police officers out on the streets. We heard earlier that police were called from one place to another on a Friday or Saturday night. Maybe the answer is more policemen on the streets.
I would be wary of declaring a city centre to be an alcohol disorder zone, thereby blackening the reputation of that city centre in toto and tarring responsible businesses with the same brush. The Association of Chief Police Officers is worried and stated in its evidence that the zones may well be a problem because of the links between longer drinking hours and yob behaviour, the cost to the taxpayer and the fact that more officers would spend time in court rather than crime-fighting. ACPO also says that the zones will
"that the police have serious doubts about whether the proposals will prove effective. ACPO is concerned that the proposed zones will be routinely challenged through the courts at considerable cost to the public sector, in terms of time and money."
The Local Government Association welcomes the opportunity to consider the provision and points out that it deals with a sensitive matter. I hope it will be used sensitively, with the caveats that I have mentioned.
I was not in favour of the introduction of ASBOs, because I thought that they were a blunt instrument, but, to the Government's credit, they are working in some areas. ASBOs are most effective when stages 1, 2 and 3 of
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the process are used in partnership, and north Wales is a beacon of good practice in that regard. The fact that fewer ASBOs are used in north Wales does not mean that North Wales police has failed. North Wales police has succeeded because such matters are being dealt with at stages 1, 2 and 3 rather than at stage 5, which involves applying for an ASBO. I hope that that sensitive, thinking attitude is adopted on alcohol zones, too.
The Local Government Association has raised the concern that the name should be changed to "alcohol management zone", which would be more salubrious and less offensive to the good people who live and work within a particular zone. Zones are necessary, but the requirement for them would decrease if we were able to secure more police on the streets. The Home Affairs Committee has considerable reservations about the zones. Although it accepts in principle that clubs and pubs should contribute more to the cost of disorder, it is concerned about proposals in the Bill that may be difficult to operate. Those proposals rest on the premise that individual licensed premises must be at fault for surrounding disorder, which cannot be right. As I have said, the matter must be dealt with sensitively.
There is room for dispersal orders, provided that they are used sensitively, but Liberty is concerned that the police will be both judge and jury in their own court, which might have unfortunate consequences for a person who is effectively banned without any real recourse to the law. The existing offences relating to public order and drunkenness are adequate to deal with those matters. The Bill introduces an offence that may not be necessary, but if it is necessary, I hope that it is employed rarely, sensitively and properly. I have nothing but faith in the police, but it is always dangerous to put a police officer in a position in which they make a judgment whether a certain course of action is right or wrong.
Parts of the Bill commend themselves to the House, but large parts of it would beto use a parliamentary wordotiose, if we used the existing legislation and spent more on putting more police officers on the street.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. As a significant number of Members are still seeking to catch my eye, in accordance with the order of the House of 26 October on shorter speeches, Mr. Speaker has decided that between 8.30 and 9.30 pm, a six-minute time limit will apply. I intend to call the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) next, who will not be subject to that restriction, which will apply after she sits down. I remind the House that in the period of shorter speeches, no added time is allowed for interventions.
Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab):
It is a great pleasure to follow the two hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches tonight. It is also a great pleasure to support this Bill, and in particular the clauses that deal with alcohol-related crime and antisocial behaviour, which I have raised previously in this House and which are matters of great concern to my constituents.
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I want to address the civil liberties elements of the Bill, which have been discussed by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and a number of pressure groups. The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) also said that he wants to examine the civil liberties elements of the Bill. He is right to do so, because our civil liberties are vital and precious, but that includes victims' civil liberties, too. When I hear some pressure groups and think tanks discuss such issues, I wonder whether their members have ever visited some of our towns at weekends or whether they have ever seen what happens on some of our big estates.
The Bill protects the civil liberties of people such as the pensioner in my constituency whose life was made a misery by young thugs tanked up on alcohol and who has the right to enjoyment in his own home. It also protects the vast majority of young people who want to go out in the evening without being hassled or attacked by idiots who have had more drink than they can handle, so we must consider their civil liberties, too.
Like many other towns, Warrington has experienced serious problems in its town centre with people drinking to excess. I commend the police and the local council on the steps that they have taken to tackle that problem, such as high-profile policing and arranging better public transport at night.
The drinking banning orders and the alcohol disorder zones will be vital in the future, not least because the only way in which to convince licensees to abandon the drinks promotions and happy hours that fuel binge drinking is to make them pay for the resulting disorder, because I regret to say that persuasion has not had much effect, so far.
Many problems in my constituency are caused not by pubs and clubs, but by young people who obtain alcohol from off-licences. I am pleased to see that the Bill contains penalties for persistently selling alcohol to a minor. As I have said to the Home Secretary, however, we must examine the penalties for buying alcohol for a minor. I have had many discussions with the police and trading standards officers in my constituency, and, by and large, our problem is not retailers selling to minors, although that happens. The problem is people who go into off-licences to buy goods for young people, usually for a share of what they buy.
We must also tackle the promotion of alcoholic drinks that are deliberately aimed at young people, which is an issue that the Bill does not cover. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy is a bit out of date, because the key issue is not alcopops, but strong ciders. It is clear that drinks with names such as Zeppelin and White Lightning are deliberately targeted at youngsters. Another such drink is called Frosty Jackit is a strong cider; it is 8 per cent. proof and you can buy a 3 litre bottle for £1.99. It contains 22.5 units of alcohol, which is more than is recommended for average adult male in a week, and it is drunk by kids on the streets and in the playing fields of my constituency and other constituencies like it.
Although the suspension of licences and closure orders are welcome, they are not enough. We must act to tackle the marketing of alcohol to the young and those adults who are complicit in antisocial behaviour by buying supplies for young people.
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I hope that Home Office Ministers will discuss with other Departments the increasing sale of smuggled alcohol, which is another issue not mentioned in the Bill. Trading standards officers have also told me that counterfeit products are sold on the estates, and such products are important because they lower the cost of getting drunk. People go round taking orders and delivering those goods, and we must convince the public that alcohol smuggling is not a victim-free crime and that it contributes to disorder on our streets.
Another issue that I should like to raise is that of resources. The Bill imposes extra duties on police and trading standards officers. While I hope that it will ultimately reduce the disorder that the police have to cope with, there is a great deal of work in it for trading standards officers, too, in dealing with the sale of alcohol, airguns and imitation firearms. Although I have a very high regard for trading standards officers in my area, they are woefully under-resourced. I hope that Home Office Ministers will discuss with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister ways in which resources can be made available to ensure that the provisions in the Bill are implemented. Bringing in laws that cannot be implemented on the ground destroys people's faith in the system, and we need to ensure that that does not happen.
The Bill tackles the immediate problems of alcohol and binge drinking, but not their long-term causes. I hope that at some point we will have an opportunity to debate on the Floor of the House why so many people, particularly younger people, behave in this way. We hear a lot about the need for respect, but we should turn that question on its head and ask where we have gone wrong, as adults, in the society that we have created and for which we are ultimately responsible. If we allow our young people to be exposed to a culture in which they are told that they can instantly have everything that they want, we should not be surprised when some of them grow up to disregard the effect of their behaviour on other people. We must talk far more about how we invest in our young people, support their families, and give them worthwhile activities. The Government have already taken steps in that direction with programmes such as Sure Start and extended schools, but we need to do much more. We need the thorough review of the youth service that we have been promised for so long so that we can put in place not only worthwhile activities for young people but other activities that engage them in the community and allow them to interact with and contribute to it.
One of the worst things that we can do when we talk about such issues is to stigmatise all our young people because of the actions of a few. Having spoken about young people, I want to put on the record, as the mother of a teenager, that most of the young people I meet are decent, well meaning and well behaved. Sometimes they are noisy; if children are not noisy, they are ill. Sometimes they do not think of the effect of their behaviour on other people and have to be taught proper consideration for others. That is not criminality, but a normal part of growing up; we should not confuse the two.
I welcome the Bill. I hope that we will see it as part of a package by which we not only tackle the problems that we face but look at their longer-term causes. We must put in place a system whereby our young people have
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more on offer than binge drinking. They need to be able to contribute to society, and we need to see them not as a problem but as the future of our societyonly in that way will we ultimately succeed.
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