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Mr. Malins: We come now to one of the Bill's main purposes, which is to tackle alcohol-related disorder. I should say at the start of my remarks that I hope to divide the House on new clause 1 if the Minister does not accept it. I have some hope that the Minister will accept it, based on her comment a few minutes ago that my amendment No. 22 was one that she was inclined to accept in due course. In my many years in this House only extremely rarely have the Government accepted anything that I have saidperhaps it is a fault in my arguments. However, it is terribly encouraging to start the debate this afternoon with the Minister saying that she approves of what I have said so far in relation to one amendment.
I shall explain new clause 1 and speak to Conservative amendments Nos. 1 to 4, 13, 5, 6 and 14, then say a word or two about Liberal Democrat amendment No. 28. New clause 1 is simple: it would amend the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to enable an antisocial behaviour order made under that Act to be made for a minimum period of three months, rather than two years, as now. Linked with the new clause is amendment No. 1, which would omit clauses 1 to 11.
I make two general propositions in this, the most important debate of the day. The first is that although alcohol-related disorder on our streets is a major problemnot ameliorated by the Government's plans to introduce extended drinking hours, which many people including the police regard as a retrograde stepand one that is getting worse by the day, not enough is being done to address it. The second general proposition is that the existing law is entirely satisfactory when it comes to dealing with alcohol-related disorder. That general theme lies behind new clause 1, which seeks to alter the period of time for which an antisocial behaviour order must be made.
When we discussed antisocial behaviour orders in Standing CommitteeI think that it was at the first sitting on 13 Octobermy hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) asked the Minister to reflect on the fact that using existing law is often better than creating new laws. Our general proposition was not only that an antisocial behaviour order can do exactly what a drinking banning order purports to do, but that it can do more and that it may be effective. If that is rightwe thought that it was and still think that it iswhy give the police yet another power in relation to drink?
The Minister seemed to indicate in Committee that antisocial behaviour orders are not applicable to the kind of activityalcohol-related disordercovered by the Bill, and when we asked her why, she pointed out two differences. First, she said that an antisocial behaviour order can be imposed on anyone from the age of 10 upwards, whereas a drinking banning order can be
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imposed only on over-16s. That is not an argument, however, because if we were to use antisocial behaviour orders in drink-banning situations, we would have a wider, better, less-limited power. I illustrate that point by saying that a lot of under-age drinking involves not 16 to 18-year-olds, but 14 and 15-year-olds, so the Minister's argument fails.
The Minister's second point against the use of antisocial behaviour orders was that under current lawthe Crime and Disorder Act 1998the minimum period for an antisocial behaviour order is two years, whereas for a drinking banning order it is two months. That is a statement of the law, but we can cover the point by simply amending the 1998 Act to enable an antisocial behaviour order to be made for a more flexible period of time, which is the result that new clause 1 attempts to achieve.
Sammy Wilson: Is not a further reason why antisocial behaviour orders may not be suitable the amount of evidence required to issue them, as opposed to the evidence required to issue drinking banning orders? The Bill states that someone need only engage in criminal or disorderly behaviour on one occasion for a drinking banning order to be applied for, whereas an antisocial behaviour order requires a longer period of evidence gathering.
Mr. Malins: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is not right. Both of those orders must be made by a court upon the production of evidence that satisfies the court that the appropriate order should be made.
A third reason why an antisocial behaviour order could be more appropriate than a drinking banning order is the consequences of a breach. As I understand it, the penalty for a breach of a drink banning order is not the highest. Under clause 10the Minister will correct me if I am wronga person who is the subject of a drink banning order is guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine: not a fine or imprisonment, but just a fine. The clause imposes a drink banning order and effectively says to the person who is its subject: "Breach this order and the result will be a fine", whereas the breach of an antisocial behaviour order can, and often does, result in a custodial sentence, and rightly so.
Let me illustrate further my proposition that existing law deals with problems of the sort that the Minister is trying to deal with. Some months ago, I asked her what powers courts have to ban defendants from entering licensed premisesbecause, let us make no mistake about it, that is what the drink banning order purports to do. She replied:
"Under the provisions of the Licensed Premises (Exclusion of Certain Persons) Act 1980 a court can make an order prohibiting a person from entering specified licensed premises, following conviction for an offence committed on licensed premises involving violence or threats of violence."
"antisocial behaviour orders . . . introduced under . . . the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and first used in 1999 can also be used to prohibit certain people from entering certain specific areas or premises."[Official Report, 12 July 2005; Vol. 436, c. 908W.]
If an antisocial behaviour order that carries a custodial sentence in the event of a breach can be used to prevent certain persons from entering certain areas or premises, what does a drink banning order add, if anything, to the existing law?
We suffer from a surfeit of laws. The House of Commons passes law after law, and the trouble is that they pile up and fall into disrepute, and quite often existing legislation that is perfectly fit for purpose is not properly used.
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