Ms Keeble: Police officers have told me about the difficulty of using young people's evidence to get a conviction. The offence of selling alcohol to children is phenomenally difficult to prosecute. The police might know that it is going on, but they find it difficult to get the evidence.
Mr. Malins: It may indeed be a difficult offence to investigate and bring charges, which is clearly why the Government have made it so much easier by giving us the new offence of doing it three times. Of course, that will ease the position, and the hon. Lady's undoubtedly sincere doubts about the ability to enforce the law will be eased by the fact that, now that it is an offence to do it three times, it will be a matter of great simplicity for the police force.
I merely wonder in amendment No. 12 whether a custodial sentence for that very serious offence should be inserted in the Bill. I shall bring my remarks to a close by saying that those who are engaged in the wine, spirit and pub world are universally worriedvery properly soabout the whole concept of alcohol disorder zones and would undoubtedly support my proposition that the charges should be imposed only where there is an element of guilt.
I had a long meeting with Tesco, which represents several people interested in the supermarket trade. It, like many others, is extremely responsible in its approach to the sale of alcohol. There is a strong argument that such supermarkets should be excluded from the provisions altogether, because the main purpose of entering them is not to buy alcohol. The Government's assertion that off-licence shops and supermarkets are a significant cause of alcohol-fuelled disorder is not good because their consultation in January conceded that any causal link between the behaviour of an individual and off-sales of alcohol was "tenuous".
The British Retail Consortium is among other bodies that have added their objections to the concept. It talks about its attitude towards responsible retailing and expresses concern about the absence of an appeal. Interestingly, it points out that
"this legislation applies to all retailers who hold a licence to sell alcohol. This would include shops such as John Lewis, Boots and Next who sell alcohol at promotional times of the year but are in no way connected with the problem of alcohol fuelled violence."
A principal objection is the catch-all and unjust nature of alcohol disorder zone provisions. I repeat again that the Association of Chief Police Officers opposes the concept. The British Hospitality Association is worried on behalf of restaurants, cinemas and gyms. It is concerned about the unfairness of many of the provisions that face it.
14 Nov 2005 : Column 759
Amendment No. 18, which addresses charges in alcohol disorder zones, would ensure that we include in the Bill at least a reference to the fact that payment should be made by those who are culpable, rather than those who are not. The rest of my amendments draw the House's attention to the fact, which must by now be absolutely plain, that clauses 12 and 13 are riddled with uncertainty and vagueness. The Minister has a duty to the House to put us straight on exactly what she means.
The hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) read into the record many objections to the proposals by a variety of interest groups in the licensed trade. My constituents are hugely worried about alcohol-related disorder and offences in the town centre. The problem arises not only on Friday and Saturday nights, but on Thursdays, Wednesdays, Tuesdays and Mondays. Young people go out for the night, visit numerous pubs and night clubs in the area and end up the worse for wear. They can be assaulted while in a vulnerable state, or assault other people while fuelled by alcohol. There are ways of prosecuting such people, but if we accepted the Liberal amendments we would have to find out which pub caused the alcohol level that induced the violent offence, which would be absolutely impossible. If the Liberal amendments were accepted, nothing would happen. We would have a totally ineffective measure on the statute book.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Does the hon. Lady accept that the police in Stockport and her constituents will have a fair idea about the premises that cause the most problems? Does she not think that it would thus be possible to identify the premises from which most problems come?
Ann Coffey: Yes, but suppose that a young person who had committed an offence had had four pints in one pub, two vodkas in the next pub and a couple of drinks of whatever in another pub. Which pub should be prosecuted? The situation would be absolutely impossible.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Perhaps the answer to the hon. Lady's question lies in the fact that it is an offence to sell alcohol to an intoxicated person, so the last pub must be the culprit.
Ann Coffey: That is very interesting, but I defy the hon. Gentleman to identify the point at which a person drinking alcohol reaches the point of total, rather than relative, intoxication. The process of becoming intoxicated is gradual. A person is not, one moment, not intoxicated and, the next, intoxicated. That makes it almost impossible to prove which pub is relevant to the intoxication.
An alcohol disorder zone is a good idea because all licensed premises in that area will have a duty to ensure that anyone drinking in them, or indeed leaving them, is in a proper state. Until we are able to establish alcohol disorder zones, everyone will suffer from the current
14 Nov 2005 : Column 760
problem of young people on the streets who are in a state in which they should not be. I do not want to see any more young people being knifed and beaten up in Stockport town centre by other young people who are drunk because they have been out in pubs and clubs that are not responsible enough to control their behaviour: enough is absolutely enough.
Stockport council will not have to apply for the town centre to be an alcohol disorder zonethe crime and disorder partnership need not bother. However, the council should be given the option of doing so because that is what local democracy is about. The tool should be available for it to make such an application and local people can then hold it responsible for their actions.
We in Stockport are fed up with the situation. We are also fed up with the mealy-mouthed words of Opposition Members about any proposal that the Government make to try to sort things outlive in the real world.