|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Jeremy Wright: One of the difficulties that we noted when antisocial behaviour orders were first introduced was the substantial delay before courts started making such orders on a regular basis. Does my hon. Friend think that that might happen with drink banning orders; and if it did, would not that undermine the Government's proper desire to deal with such problems instantly?
Mr. Malins: My hon. Friend is right. Such situations are becoming increasingly common. As we all know, in their early years antisocial behaviour orders were barely used at all. I remember the then Home Secretary telling the Home Affairs Committee that he thought that thousands would be used in the first year or two, but such is the bureaucratic nightmare involved that only a few hundred were used in that period. The use of antisocial behaviour orders has increased a lot in the past couple of years, and I congratulate the Government and the courts on that. There is always a very slow run-in period before such orders are used to their full effect. It could properly be said that antisocial behaviour orders are now the norm rather than the exception in such cases, and breaches usually result in a custodial sentence. So his parallel point about the drinking banning order, which, according to the Government, we need to cure an immediate problem quickly, is correct. If the antisocial behaviour order is anything to go by, it will be years before the drinking banning orders get under way and are used to their full effect.
What problems do the drinking banning orders purport to attack? The answer is the alcohol-fuelled disorder, to which I referred earlier. No hon. Member doubts that one of the greatest problems that the country faces is binge drinking, especially by young people, both girls and boys. The Prime Minister's strategy unit's alcohol harm reduction project was established a year or two ago. It told uswe knew it alreadythat British teenagers, along with those in Ireland and Denmark, are among the heaviest teenage drinkers in Europe. They are more likely to drink to get drunk and to report problems that are associated with drinking than their counterparts in other European countries.
14 Nov 2005 : Column 711
There is a telling statistic: more than one third of 15-year-olds in the United Kingdom report having been drunk at the age of 13 or earlier. That is a desperate figure. Given that an antisocial behaviour order can be made against someone as young as 10, the problem of young person's drunkenness could be better addressed through such an order.
Patterns of heavy and binge drinking, which are especially serious in the UK, lead to an increasing toll of premature death and health problems as well as alcohol-related disorder and injuries.One of the most distressing factors is the number of women who drink well above recommended guidelines. That figure has risen by more than half in the past 15 years. Hon. Members will agree that binge drinking by young women is perhaps even more dangerous in health terms than that by young men.
We face big problems and binge drinking is undoubtedly one of them. Come with me, Mr. Speaker, to the streets of some of our towns and cities in the south on a Friday and Saturday evening, and see what happens when people, full of alcohol, are turned out of pubs and clubs at 11 pm or 12 am. It was probably different in our dayI say that as a kindness to all hon. Memberswhen there was no such thing as spirit chasers. In my experience in the courts, I have encountered many young people who commit alcohol-fuelled crime, who, in between their pints of bitter, have a double vodka or a double spirit shot. That is a relatively new and damaging trend which must be tackled.
Jim Sheridan: The hon. Gentleman has just said that the most dangerous time is when people are tipped out of pubs at 11 pm and 12 am and gravitate towards the centre of towns. Surely that is an argument for extending the licensing laws and for more flexible licensing laws so that people are chucked out at different times of night?
Mr. Malins: The Government continually argue that the new licensing laws will lead to a continental café culture, whereby everybody comes out of the clubs and behaves beautifully. However, the hon. Gentleman is naive if he believes that extended licensing hours will help. I understand that the Government always support the police and, if the police say something, the Government appear to believe that it must be right. The police have said that they are terribly worried about late drinking hours and the Judges Council has made a statement to the effect that alcohol consumption over a longer period of timethe extended licensing hoursis much more likely to fuel alcohol-related crime. I therefore urge the Government, even at this late stage, to think again, given that so many people are against them on permitting alcohol to be drunk round the clock.
The problems of alcohol-related disorder are clearly there for all to see, but there is already a range of offences and orders to cover everything that happens on our streets in relation to drunkenness and drunken crime, and according to the Home Affairs Committee, which is dominated by Labour Members, those powers are grossly underused at present. So what is the point of introducing a new Bill with a complicated new kind of order when the existing law is wholly adequate?
14 Nov 2005 : Column 712
The whole issue is about the proper enforcement of those existing laws, and I shall give the House some examples. If a person is drunk, there is an offence of simple drunk. If they are drunk and disorderly, there is an offence of drunk and disorderly. It is interesting to speculate on the number of people who are prosecuted for being drunk or drunk and disorderly. In truth, the numbers are dropping dramatically, yet there is more drunkenness and disorderliness on our streets. Why, then, have the prosecutions dropped from about 124,000 in 1980 to fewer than 44,000 in 2001? I suspect that the Government would answer that most offences of drunk and disorderly are dealt with by issuing fixed penalty notices. That can sometimes send the wrong signal, however, because some people deserve to appear in court.
I then referred the Minister to a written question that I had put to her Department in June this year. I had asked for the total value of fixed penalty notices handed out by the police in the Greater London area in the past 12 months, and the percentage that remained unrecovered. One would have thought that the Minister's answer to that question would have been the same as the one that she gave in Committee. However, her answer was that the total value of fixed penalty notices issued was not collected centrally. So, in fact, she was able to tell us very little about the effectiveness of fixed penalty notices.
Apart from the offences of drunk and drunk and disorderly, there are the offences of common assault and actual bodily harm, as well as four or five offences under the Public Order Act 1986, ranging from riot right down to using abusive words and behaviour. And so the list goes on. Offence after offence can and should be used by the Government but they are simply not being used at the moment.
Antisocial behaviour orders are the subject of new clause 1, and I believe that changing the time for which they operate from a minimum of two years to three months could fit the bill. I want to ask the Minister some specific questions. Does she accept that an antisocial behaviour order can prohibit persons from entering specific areas or premises? Does she also accept that such an order could prevent a person from entering a licensed premises? She must accept that the answer is yes to both those questions. Will she therefore tell me how many such orders forbidding persons to enter such licensed premises have been made so far by the courts? How many have been breached? How effective have they been? How many people have been sent to prisonas is possible under an ASBO but not under a drink banning orderfor such breaches? Will she also confirm that another restriction that can be laid upon an individual is, before trial, to impose bail conditions forbidding a defendant from going into specified premises?
14 Nov 2005 : Column 713
The Minister has said that antisocial behaviour orders are not appropriate for dealing with alcohol-related disorder. May I gently suggest to her that she is completely out of step with the courts, which, I can tell her from my own experience, are using ASBOs to deal with exactly the sort of alcohol-related disorder that we are facing? I repeat the point that they are stronger than drink banning orders, simply because the penalty for breach can be up to five years in prisonI will be corrected if I am wrongwhereas the penalty for breach of this drink banning order is only a fine. That troubles me, because if the breach only results in a fine, our means courts will be flooded with cases of people who have a drink banning order made against them, who breach it, and who do not pay the fine, which is the maximum sanction. That is the reality. If you and I were to know, Mr. Deputy SpeakerI knew at one pointthe percentage of unpaid fines in the Greater London area in a particular year, we would be absolutely astonished at the volume of them.
The question of breach is important. The Minister said, during the Committee's third sitting, I think, on 18 October, that custody is not appropriate if people have merely breached a community penalty. I happen to take a different view, and I wonder where she has been all this timein fact, in courts up and down the land, breaches of community penalty often result in a custodial sentence, not least for the original offence.
I want to speak briefly to some other important amendments. The purpose of new clause 1 and amendment No. 1 is my fundamental one of saying that the proposed legislation is unnecessary and that the problems addressed can be dealt with fully under existing law. For that reason, I want to press new clause 1 to a vote.
"must include such prohibition as the court making it considers necessary, for that purpose, on the subject's entering premises in respect of which there is a premises licence authorising the use of the premises for the sale of alcohol by retail; and . . . club premises".
My amendment No. 2 is a reasonable provision that seeks to insert into the clause the word "knowingly", because as we all know, some premises such as garages are licensed to sell alcohol, and it is entirely possible to enter a garage premises to get petrol unaware that it also holds a licence and sells wine and spirits.
That gets us round the problem, which we discussed ad nauseam in Committee, whereby supermarkets, under clause 1(3), would be covered by the ban. Let us remember that the court "must" include a prohibition, not "may". People would therefore be banned from going into supermarkets and corner shops. Would people living close to the only village shop or post office , which might sell alcohol, be banned from going into them? What about garages, sports clubs, hotels,
14 Nov 2005 : Column 714
restaurants and cinemas? We are talking about premises that by and large are not remotely connected with the fuelling of alcohol-related disorder, but that are licensed premises, and would therefore be caught under the provision prohibiting people who are subject to a drink banning order from entering them.
During the second sitting of the Standing Committee, Conservative Members raised the issue of the premises that would be covered. We all know that the premises that cause the real problem in terms of alcohol-related disorder are pubs that behave irresponsibly. What about the premises that I listed earlier? Would a court ban peopleas it appears it would have tofrom entering all licensed premises?
"On 26 October I, the Home Secretary and Ministers from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will meet the chief executives of the large supermarket chains, to talk about the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I think that most people accept that they are a problem."
"that the individual can carry on using the corner shop if it is the only shop for 10 milesalthough I doubt thatbut he may be banned from buying alcohol there. He could still buy fish fingers, but not alcohol. If he bought alcohol from the garage rather than petrol, he would be in breach of the order and a sanction would followand properly so."[Official Report, Standing Committee B,18 October 2005; c. 478.]
Let us pause for a moment. Can the Minister tell us where the Bill says that the court has a power to act in any way that it thinks fit in relation to any particular licensed premises, by name or by description? I want her to be absolutely clear about that, and to answer my fundamental question: rather than including the rigmarole about premises with a licence, club premises and so forth, why does she not accept a straightforward amendment to the effect that a drink banning order may impose a prohibition on a person from entering licensed premises for the purpose of purchasing or consuming alcohol?
In fewer words than those used by the Government, my amendment absolutely covers the position. No Member in his right mind wants to stop someone from entering a garage, supermarket or village shop. I can tell the Minister that plenty of people live in areas so rural that the only shop within miles where they can obtain their daily provisions is one with an alcohol licence. There are also plenty of people who rely entirely on their sport to keep them going. They will want to go on visiting sports clubs which have licences. Why not accept an amendmentamendment No. 4which allows them to do that, but states that the order can prohibit them from buying or attempting to buy alcohol there, or from consuming it? I believe that those arguments are compelling.
14 Nov 2005 : Column 715
The word "disorderly" utterly stumps me. It is not defined anywhere in the Bill, so I seek from the Minister some examples of what she means by "disorderly behaviour". Is it disorderly behaviour that is a crime or is it disorderly behaviour that falls short of a crime? I remember challenging a Government Member in Committee on precisely that issue. I asked whether she could provide some examples of disorderly behaviour that did not amount to a crime. In truth, she could not. If my memory serves me correctly, she first provided an example of someone who was plainly drunk and disorderly and subsequently examples of matters that were plainly a criminal offence.
I have talked the issue through with legal colleagues who are utterly stumped by the Government's failure to define disorderly conduct. In an alcohol context, being drunk and disorderly is already a crime. My probing amendment No. 13 asks what is meant by "disorderly", and I would be most grateful for the Minister's clarification.
The greatly respected organisation Justice takes a similar view. It believes that the threshold in clause 2(2) for the imposition of a drinking banning order is too broad. Drinking banning orders, it believes, should surely be aimed at those who
On amendment No. 5, will the Minister define the difference between being under the influence of alcohol and drunk? The Bill purports to permit a drinking banning order to be made against someone who is
rather than drunk. I looked carefully at the legal precedents to see what definitions there were in existing legislation of being under the influence of alcohol compared with being drunk. We all know from our experience in the courts and, more commonly, as watchers rather than anything else, what a policeman would say about someone whom he or she deemed to be drunk. The policeman would say that the person's eyes were bloodshot, his speech slurred, he could not walk straight and so forth, so he was "drunk".
but not "drunk". Of course, drink-driving laws are administered through the use of a breathalyser at the roadside and thereafter a taximeter test at the police station. Someone whose breath intake of alcohol
14 Nov 2005 : Column 716
exceeds 35 mg or, in blood, 80 mg, is deemed to be under the influence of alcohol. That is the actual charge laid against someone driving a motor vehicle while under that influence, but it does not mean that they are drunk. According to the law, as determined by the breathalyser, they are under the influence of alcohol. Why, then, does clause 2(2) make it a condition for making the order that the individual has engaged in
My amendment No. 6 relates to clause 5, which deals with the imposition of a drinking banning order. It seems sensible to me that the body responsible for imposing such an order should be the Crown who prosecutes the case, rather than the court. Courts often consider making such an order without reference to the Crown or without taking the Crown's views into account. It is more sensible to say that a drinking banning order should be made on an application by the Crown rather than of the court's own volition.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|