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24 Oct 2005 : Column 89

Licensing Laws

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): We now come to the motion on licensing laws. Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.28 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I beg to move,

It is a matter of record that, since the Committee stage of the Licensing Bill, my party has consistently raised our concerns about the implications of the Government's proposal to introduce extended licensing hours. Both in Committee and since, we have argued that the drinking culture in the UK—in particular, the culture of binge drinking and the explosion of alcohol-fuelled violence and antisocial behaviour— has made the Government's plans dangerous and foolhardy.

Ministers offered us a number of reassurances in Committee. At the same time as promising that Labour could not give a XXXX for drinking-up time, the Prime Minister was also pledging:

The reality on our streets is very different. There are now 1 million violent crimes a year and, in the three months to June, police recorded 318,200 violent crimes—up 6 per cent. on the same period last year. A particularly worrying statistic is that half the violence is due to binge drinking.

Kitty Ussher (Burnley) (Lab): Is the right hon. Lady aware that the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the bookies' favourite to become the next Tory leader, has publicly declared his support for the Government? In the Oxford Journal, he said:

Given that—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. An intervention must be brief.

Mrs. May: We have always said that it is about getting rid of the binge drinking culture. There are indeed powers in the Bill that my hon. Friends and I welcome, but I wish to concentrate on extended licensing hours
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and the problems that they will cause for people up and down the country, including the constituency of the hon. Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher).

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Two thirds of sentenced male prisoners—about 50,000 men—have admitted to hazardous drinking, and 25,000 of them have a severe alcohol dependency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not surprising that the Government are in dereliction of their duty, because not one prison has a ring-fenced programme for dealing with alcohol problems?

Mrs. May: My hon. Friend has made an important and valid point. She has spent much time examining the issues that we need to address if we are to ensure that prisoners can deal with problems such as drink. Under the current arrangements, there will be even more problem drinking and it is likely that even more people will end up in the position that she highlighted.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the point made in the earlier quotation from the Oxford Journal concerned the intentions behind the Act? Whatever those intentions were, the measure is badly constructed and has been badly introduced. The promises about safeguards that were made to our party and to others have been largely forgotten.

Mrs. May: My right hon. Friend is right. It is disappointing not only that those safeguards have been forgotten but that Ministers continue to give those assurances to this day, despite the fact that it is patently obvious that our concerns have not been met.

Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South) (Lab): Everyone in the House shares the right hon. Lady's concerns about binge drinking, so I hope that she will not suggest otherwise, but will she address the facts on the table rather than the myths that are being peddled? Scotland has had staggered licensing hours for some years and everyone involved, including the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, has concluded that they have had far fewer problems with binge drinking as a result. Why has the right hon. Lady not taken that into account?

Mrs. May: The Act has not resulted in staggered hours. Binge drinking is not a myth—it is a problem on the streets of our towns and cities. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to express concern about binge drinking, he has an easy option: he can join us and vote for the motion.

The cost to the taxpayer of the explosion of alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder is £12 billion a year, which is £5 billion more than the original estimate by the Downing street policy unit. I am not alone in thinking that extending licensing hours when we have an explosion of alcohol-related crime is sheer lunacy. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about the impact of the new law. Earlier, in Culture questions, I cited the concern of
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three senior police officers, including Commander Chris Allison, the licensing spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, who said:

The Secretary of State told me that I should not quote one senior officer selectively. I did not do so then and I will not now. The deputy chief constable of the British Transport Police warns that police believe that extending licensing hours could lead to

The chief superintendent of Derbyshire constabulary warned that

He went on to say:

The deputy chief constable of north Wales said that it was "inevitable" that there would be

I could cite more warnings. It is clearly not just me who is worried about the impact of the new laws.

Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): I used to chair the public health committee at Newcastle city council. We conducted experiments during Euro 96 and on millennium eve, when we did not have any closing hours. The police are on the record as saying that far fewer people were arrested for violence and disorder on those two occasions than on a usual Friday or Saturday night. The right hon. Lady should consider that experience rather than picking out quotes.

Mrs. May: First—

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mrs. May: I accept that the hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mr. Bailey) is keen to intervene, but he might let me answer the question from his hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) before popping up to ask one of his own.

One cannot extrapolate consistent consequences from the experience of just two nights. The problem is not staggered hours but people being disgorged on to the streets at 1 or 2 am—

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