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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind hon. Members that the time limit on Back-Bench speeches is now six minutes.

8.32 pm

Jeremy Wright (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con): I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) said. I add my congratulations to Members who have made their maiden speeches today—my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes), with whom I share a profession in the criminal law, and the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho), on behalf of whose constituents I have, sadly, often practised that profession.

I welcome a great deal of the Bill, particularly its focus on alcohol-related disorder, which, as many hon. Members said, is a problem in many parts of the country—not only in cities but in smaller towns such as those that I represent. Like many hon. Members, I have seen for myself the effects of such disorder. With the night shift of Rugby police, I have watched, with, I suppose, hope and despair in equal measure, the behaviour of young people who go out specifically with the intention of getting drunk and thereafter causing trouble—although of course I agree with the hon. Member for Warrington, North that such young people are merely a minority. I have also watched the compassion and unfailing politeness of highly professional police officers who then have to deal with those problems. Of course, there are wider costs, not only economic but social, which have also been discussed. In our town centres—I include Rugby—we begin to witness a cycle of despair whereby those who are out simply for a good time leave the town centres to those who cause trouble. That leaves a vacuum to be filled by yet more of those who are out to cause trouble. I hope that the Bill will begin to deal with that problem.

In that context, perhaps alcohol disorder zones are the Bill's most significant proposal. My only concern is that perhaps we view the matter too narrowly. Of course, it is correct that a great deal of alcohol-related disorder happens just outside the pubs and clubs but we all know that it spills into residential areas that are slightly further afield. We all receive many letters from constituents, as I did only this morning, who live in residential areas not too far away from the town centres and find that people who drink too much and cause trouble make their lives a misery in the middle of the night. We must therefore consider ways in which to deal with alcohol-related disorder not only in the alcohol disorder zones but outside them.

It is important to consider those who sell alcohol to children, not only the licensees of public houses and clubs but those who sell from off-licences. In my constituency, there is a serious problem in the town of Kenilworth with one particular licensee, who regularly sells to minors whom he knows, so test purchases do not work. Those minors, fuelled by the alcohol that he has sold them, go on to cause trouble in public areas and private streets. Perhaps Ministers would like to examine that problem more carefully.
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The Home Secretary batted away a point that I raised earlier but I hope that other Ministers will consider it. We must think about the resources that we provide to our police officers to fulfil the obligations that the Bill imposes on them. We must remember that police officers are overworked, overburdened with paperwork and do not have the time to deal with an arsenal of further obligations. I am all in favour of extra orders and extra measures that give the police and the courts the power to deal with those who cause alcohol-related disorder but there is no point in adding more and more orders and more and more measures to the arsenal of the police if they do not have the manpower, resources or time to make good use of them. I urge Ministers to consider that and I hope that the Bill can be further improved.

8.37 pm

Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough) (Lab): Like most hon. Members, I support many if not all the Bill's provisions. There is some consensus among all the parties on the measure. I support the stronger new powers to deal with drunk and violent criminals and ensure that pubs and bars sell alcohol responsibly.

I want to concentrate on the provisions that specifically refer to airguns. As the Minister knows, I have taken a great personal interest in the matter since January 1999, when 10-year-old Adam Yoxall was blinded in one eye by an airgun pellet in Grimethorpe in my constituency. My first Adjournment debate on 23 June 1999 was on that subject. Since then, I have tabled several early-day motions on the matter. I fully endorse all the provisions on airguns and replica guns. However, I wonder if the Government will consider going a little further.

The Secretary of State said in his opening remarks that he had held discussions with many agencies, including the Gun Control Network. In the past few months, two boys lost their lives in airgun incidents, including Alex Cole from Conisbrough near Doncaster, which is close to my constituency. Many other victims of airgun attacks have been lucky to escape without serious injury. The Gun Control Network advocates a licensing system, which has exercised the minds of hon. Members of all parties. I share the interest in the licensing system, especially in light of the fact that the Scottish First Minister is considering introducing such a system. I hope that we can explore the matter further in Committee.

I realise that there are many pitfalls involved in introducing a licensing scheme for airguns. There are already between 4 million and 7 million airguns in circulation, and most do not have a unique serial number. Perhaps ensuring that they did have such a number would be a move in the right direction. We might also want to consider restricting the sale of airguns to authorised dealers, which would have the distinct advantage of reducing the number of outlets for such weapons. Members have already mentioned the problems relating to internet and mail order sales of air weapons. It is far too easy to buy weapons on the internet. I know that this is a difficult issue, but we must consider it very seriously in relation to restricting future sales.
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I understand that, under the present powers of confiscation, the courts have the power to confiscate air weapons on the recommendation of the police. Might we, however, consider giving the power of confiscation to the police in their own right? We ought seriously to consider such a measure in Committee.

I should like to highlight two further points on airgun safety that I mentioned in my Adjournment debate in June 1999. They relate to the two Es: enforcement and education. I fully support the move to raise the minimum age for purchasing an airgun to 18, but an even greater impact on airgun safety would be achieved by having better enforcement by the police to cut down on the level of abuse and misuse of airguns. The practical problem related to better enforcement is that many incidents involve very young children. In many cases, the incidents are also first offences. We need to focus on the fact that the penalties imposed on those children are often very light, perhaps involving no more than a caution.

Better education is essential if parents and children are to realise that airguns are not toys but potentially lethal weapons, and that they need to be treated as such. Parents must ensure that airguns are kept securely, and never in a place that could be accessible to young children. This has been an excellent debate, and I hope that the Bill's Second Reading will be uncontested tonight.

8.42 pm

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): It is clear from many of the contributions from both sides of the House that this is an important subject. That is certainly reflected in the feedback that we are getting from the public, whether on policing, binge drinking, the trafficking and use of drugs, or the sale and use of hand weapons.

It was interesting to hear how all the parties laid out their stalls during the election, making major promises to tackle the growth in violent crime. The public are certainly right to be concerned. Let us take my constituency as a yardstick. In 2000–01, there were 1,402 violent crimes recorded there. That figure has now doubled to 3,257, which is a worrying change in three years. This is now a major issue that affects more people in our communities, town centres and schools. After all the debates during the general election and all the promises that were made, there is disappointment that this flagship Bill to challenge the rise in violent crime has failed to meet expectations.

We should not dismiss the many good parts of the Bill. They were well covered by other hon. Members and I shall not allude to them further owing to time restrictions. However, the Bill fails to go to the heart of the problem. Why, for example, does a pupil feel the need to take a weapon into school in the first place? Why do young men—and, indeed, young women—drink as much as possible in the shortest possible time on Friday and Saturday nights? How can police resources be strengthened to cope with the challenges of the night-time economy?

The Government should look more at the causes of crime and less at the punishment. The Bill arguably focuses on the challenges created by a younger age group in society, namely violence in schools and binge
20 Jun 2005 : Column 607
drinking. All those issues together reflect a cultural change in society that requires more than a sticking-plaster approach to solving the problem. We need an in-depth, concerted attack on what unites all these issues: a growing lack of respect for our community, our laws, our rules and our values, and for those who enforce them, whether they be police, teachers or even parents.

I want to focus on the part of the Bill that deals with binge drinking, which is a huge issue in Bournemouth, although it is clear from what we have heard today that it is a problem throughout the nation. Unfortunately, the limited power of councils prevents the growth of pubs and clubs, which encourages the drinking culture. Hogarth's picture "Gin Lane" is re-created on every town centre CCTV monitor on Friday and Saturday nights as lads and ladettes stagger and stumble on the pavements and roads, threatening the world around them as the alcohol blurs their judgment, turning a truck driver, a postman or a banker by day into an ill-tempered, aggressive, irrational and often tribal animal by night.

Local residents—certainly in Bournemouth—are deterred from visiting the town centre. Almost half the police on duty are deployed to an area measuring a quarter of a square mile where the pubs and clubs are located. Police concentrate on maintaining law and order in the heart of the town, and the rest is not given the coverage that it deserves.

The Bill covers many issues connected with binge drinking, but it will need considerable scrutiny in Committee. The imposition of a drink banning order on individuals would have limited effect, as most drinkers—certainly in Bournemouth—tend to be visitors or revellers. Following a banning order, they would simply move somewhere else. The same applies to spot bans on troublemakers. As for closing licensed premises, who would police it? Premises are not checked thoroughly enough as it is. The setting up of alcohol disorder zones would take 28 days, during which time the cause of concern might have moved. Moreover, it would label the area and other, well-run, restaurants and pubs might be caught in the zone and given a bad name. I shall not cite the two examples in the explanatory notes, but Members should look at them. We should be acting now, rather than waiting for another Bill.

The hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) spoke of enabling councils to impose a levy on pubs and clubs. I think that, rather than an area being labelled, councils should have that power. The extra police required for big football matches are not paid for by the taxpayer but from ticket sales—in other words, by those attending the matches. The same principle should apply to pubs and clubs.

Despite being described as a flagship Bill intended to make our communities safer, the Bill fails to deal with important election issues. There is no mention of simplifying police paperwork, strengthening the role of special constables or giving councillors powers to limit the number of clubs in an area—or, indeed, giving them a say in how the community grows. The Bill does not challenge the drinks industry's approach to drinks promotion. It does not suggest giving the specials a salary, which would be a commendable way of increasing the number of people who join the specials rather than becoming community support officers.
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It is easy to see what the Bill will do, but it will not challenge or reduce the amount of violent crime, and it will not deal with the very British problem of binge drinking.

8.48 pm

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