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Jeremy Wright: Does my hon. Friend agree that more alcohol is consumed in some restaurants than in some pubs, so those restaurants would be contributing more substantially to the problems that the Government want to address, yet their purpose as restaurants is not primarily the supply of alcohol?
Mr. Malins: My hon. Friend makes a good point. That is undoubtedly true of some restaurants. He hammers home the point that we need a real explanation from the Minister about which premises will and will not be covered, and in what circumstances premises would find themselves saved from the need to impose the charges.
Ms Keeble: In some areas, the distinction may be a fine one, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a world of difference between a restaurant where people have something to drink with their meal and a vertical drinking place where young people drink as much as they can and are shoved out on to the street? It is the second that causes the problems in a large number of our town centres.
The hon. Lady makes a fair point, but we must decide what the Bill says and means. Although it is undoubtedly true that standards of behaviour vary between premises, it is equally true that the clause will affect little corner shops or specialist trade off-licences
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whose contribution to alcohol-related disorder is zero. Of course, many of us think that some pubs need attention and that some restaurants might, but some pubs might not. That is where the measure is so vague. In Committee and throughout our debate today, there has been a complete absence of further explanation from the Government about what on earth they mean by the clause, so it is difficult for us to decide whether it is appropriate.
Will the Minister make the clearest possible statement about clubs such as night clubs, where people predominantly go to danceor do they? Do they go to such clubs for alcohol? I do not dance[Laughter.]if I can help it. By mistake, I took rock and roll dancing lessons about two years ago. It was a pathetic sight. However, people in the trade want to know about the position of night clubs where there is a serious combination of music and heavy drinking. Will they be exempted under subsection (6)?
Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): I am sure that the hon. Gentleman accepts that constituencies differ, as do town centres. Does not he feel that the appropriateness of the provisions in a particular areatheir effect on restaurants and so onwould be taken into account by the crime partnership before considering an alcohol dispersal zone? Is not it a tool that can be used effectively in places where local crime partnerships feel it important? I cannot understand why he does not want to give that option to councils, such as Stockport, which have huge problems of alcohol-related disorder in their town centres.
Mr. Malins: The hon. Lady makes a sensible and accurate point about different problems in different constituencies. One would want to ensure that sensible discretion is used, but I remind her of what I said a few moments ago: we are debating a Bill and we need to ensure that it leaves the House in a state that we can understand and predict. Although the hon. Lady and I might agree that premises that are not the cause of alcohol-related disturbance should not be charged, that is not in the Bill. We need much more explanation from the Minister about the meaning of the clause.
Clause 12(2) deals with the use to which sums received by the local authority will be put and is a tremendous example of vagueness. It states that the Secretary of State may make regulationsterrific
How on earth are hon. Members supposed to have a meaningful debate about that? Frankly, it could be no more than a tax-raising exercise by local authorities. Why is it not possible to insert, as I seek to do in amendment No. 15, a requirement that the purpose should be to reduce alcohol-related disorder in the locality, as opposed to any purpose that the Government might deem appropriate when they make some regulations, as suggested in the Bill.
I assume that the hon. Gentleman's point relates to policing and crime, but does he not accept that major issues, such as cleansing and other services, are
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key to what happens in the town centre and closely linked to drink-related behaviour? The proposals are not just about policing costs. Street cleaning and design are important in helping to deal with the problem, as the Minister would agree.
Mr. Malins: Funnily enough, that may be true, but the problem is that none of it is set out in the Bill and we will never see the regulations. It is right to insert a requirement that the money must be used for the purpose of reducing alcohol-related disorder in the locality. Frankly, if the Government had introduced a Bill in which they had set out certain other purposes for which it should be used, including street cleansing, as least we would have something to debate tonight, whereas the truth is that we have nothing to debate at all.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): Constituencies such as mine do not have a primary town centre and public houses are in residential areas, where vast disturbance is caused to residents. Does my hon. Friend agree that, in such areas, money should be directed to stop the cause: antisocial drinking and antisocial behaviour? Surely, that would make more sense.
Mr. Malins: Again, my hon. Friend makes a good pointI cannot but agree with himbut in a sense he reinforces the fact that we simply do not know what the Government have in mind under the Bill. We would like to know what they have in mind.
Amendment No. 16 takes the matter not much further in the sense that it is a repetition in a different part of the Bill of a point that I made earlier, and it is to the effect that the charges should be
Surely the Minister would feel it appropriate to accept amendment No. 8. Clause 12(7)(b) states that the Secretary of Sate "may" by regulation make provision about the payment, collection and enforcement of charges. I may have misunderstood the word "may"it may have some parliamentary meaning that has completely escaped mebut I am not sure about that. It seems that the word "may" means that she may or may not. I see absolutely no reason why the word "must" should not go into the Bill, as I suggest in amendment No. 8. Likewise, amendment No. 7 says that the regulations should deal with the imposition of charges, which is to say the basis on which charges are imposed on licensed premises.
The appeals point is very important indeed. My amendment suggests that the appeals should be made to the court. The reason I tabled that amendment is, yet again, that the Government have included the most vague statement: they may make regulations about appeals. We must face the fact that some licensed premises or, indeed, trade organisations will decide that they want to appeal against the imposition of such charges on their own premises. What can we debate about the appeal?
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Bills that relate to crime normally at least include a provision of appeal to a court and deal with matters such as legal aid. One can get one's teeth into that, but it seems quite vague to say that regulations can make provision about appeals. Can the Minister specifically tell us today to whom the appeals will be made? Is there an undoubted provision for appeal? Who has the ability to overturnif she thinks that it is not improper to overturnthe decision of the local authority?
Amendment No. 12, which is linked to this group, relates to a different clause, which deals with selling alcohol persistently to childrenone of the new offences that we discussed at some length in Committee. My amendment is simply a probing amendment. Whereas I always thought that it was an offence to sell alcohol to under-18s, the Government suggest another offence of persistently selling alcohol. There might be another offence next year of persistently selling alcohol persistently. It is either an offence or it is not.
The Minister may tell me how many people have been charged in the past 12 months with selling alcohol to under-18s. Does she know? Perhaps she would like to intervene to tell me now, because that might shorten my next comments. It appears that she is not entirely sure whether anyone has been charged with the existing offence under the law.
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