Mr. Redwood : I share the passion of the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) to see something done about drunken and disorderly conduct in town centres. The issue before the House is not whether we wish to tackle such gross abuse of our town centres at nighteveryone in the House wishes to do sobut how we can do that most effectively and justly.
I support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), especially amendments Nos. 18 and 16, which go to the heart of the issue. It would be not merely unjust to impose a tax or levy on licensed premises or restaurants with licences that are perfectly well run, but totally ineffective. Just as the hon. Member for Stockport is passionate about wishing to control disorder in Stockport, I am passionate about wishing to control disorder anywhere in our country, especially places near my constituency. However, I do not for one moment believe that if we impose an extra tax or levy on those who run orderly premises in our society, it will have any impact on disorder. We need to get to the cause of the disorder.
Licensed premises in some towns and other centres might be breaking the rules of their licence, or breaking the law. If they are knowingly selling alcohol to minors, they should be prosecuted. If they are knowingly selling alcohol to people who have already had too muchand visibly sowe are all in favour of action being taken. However, Conservative Members are worried about an ineffective and unjust proposal that will allow any premises with a licence to be clobbered because people misbehave, although many such premises will have had nothing whatsoever to do with the offence and the misbehaviour.
It is likely that in many cases a locality will mean a complete town centre. In a town such as Reading, which I know well because it is just over the border from my constituency, or even a small and relatively well-ordered town such as Wokingham, it will be difficult to draw a line between different streets. Drunkenness spills out across the town centre, and councillors are likely to want to make the whole area into a zone. It is therefore vital that the Minister tells us in general what exemptions would be permitted inside such a large area, which will include many licensed premises that have nothing to do with the trouble.
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The Government argue that the people who cause the problems ought to be made to pay. However, those problems are caused primarily not by individuals running licensed premises and businesses but by the drunks themselves. How do the Government propose to make sure that they pay their fair share towards cleaning up the mess and dealing with the damage, and towards the cost of the extra health and policing services that are needed?
Why do the Government think that it makes good or effective law to charge innocent people who are trying to run decent businesses in a town centre and who may offer a countervailing pressure to the unruly behaviour of a minority in a limited number of premises? That would not improve the situation, and would clearly make it worse. The only thing that it is likely to do is drive more of the decent businesses out of town centres to areas where they will not become part of a zone, thus compounding the problem in the town centre, where the wrong kind of businesses will remain. I hope that the Government take seriously the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking, and introduce a provision along those lines.
Jeremy Wright : I, too, support the amendments that my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) has tabled, particularly amendment No. 18. Alcohol disorder zones have the potential to be not only unfair but counter-productive in many ways. The unfairness has been dealt with in detail by other hon. Members, so I will not address it at length. However, the problem does not, as the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) suggested, stem from the fact it is difficult to isolate individual premises that supply the drink that makes someone drunk or pushes them beyond that point, causing them to come into conflict with the forces of law and order. The problem is that the Government are introducing proposals that financially penalise businesses that operate in the alcohol disorder zone, whatever they do, whether it is right or wrong.
Under those circumstances, the burden of proof rests with the Government to demonstrate that all those businesses share the blame. There is a risk that the proposals will be counter-productive. In Committee, the Minister talked about various programmes and schemes, including the "best bar none" scheme, to which premises could subscribe. They could sign up to best practice proposals and do everything that the Government and the rest of society expected of them by refusing to serve people who were drunk, by behaving responsibly, and by operating their businesses in a way that minimised any disorder outside their premises, but they would still be liable for payment in an alcohol disorder zone. If that is the case, there is a danger that those businesses will simply throw up their hands and say, "Why should I bother? Why should I sign up to all the schemes that the Government want me to join and still have to pay my money?"
Ms Keeble: I argued that we could not trace the final pint. However, the industry will, by its very nature, incur extra costs. I will not go into detail, but I believe that the industry should bear a greater proportion of the costs.
If the hon. Lady is saying that people who supply alcohol to individuals who become drunk
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and cause disorder should bear the burden of costs, I agree. However, I do not agree that we should assume that every supplier of alcohol is therefore irresponsible. The assumption made by those who framed the proposal is that people who live or operate and work in a particular area of town that the council has designated an alcohol disorder zone must be contributing to the problem and will therefore be charged for the expense of sorting it out. That is fundamentally unfair. If we want premises to comply with all the wonderful schemes and positive measures that have been introduced they will not be encouraged to do so if they are subject to a financial penalty, whether or not they take those measures. The Government must address that difficulty if alcohol disorder zones are to be as effective as they want them to be and, even more worryingly, if they are not to cause our town centres, pubs and clubs to be less inclined to do precisely the things that they would like them to do.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I welcome the concept of alcohol disorder zones and I trust that one day the legislation will be extended to Northern Ireland, where there are areas of great disorder associated with licensed premises. There is the added effect of sectarian behaviour by the people who use those premises.
The principle of the polluter pays together with the use of market forces to meet the social costs incurred by businesses is well established. Our debate has centred on whether everyone engaged in the licensed trade is responsible to some extent for those social costs. A number of hon. Members have concluded that some people in the licensed trade sell alcohol but do not contribute to the social costs and, if we accept that argument, the legislation is unjust and unfair. I have listened closely to all the arguments, and some Members said that some individuals are more culpable than others. It was said that some are culpable, but others are not culpable at all.
We have heard a wide range of examples, but when people sell alcohol, especially in an area with a collection of pubs and licensed premises, everyone is culpable to some extent. As has been pointed out, when people go out for the night, they often go from pub to pub until the alcohol in their blood stream builds up and they engage in antisocial behaviour. It is difficult to pinpoint the premises concerned because, as all our constituents know, the disorder is not always associated with premises. It does not happen inside or immediately outside the doorit could happen half a mile away. It is therefore difficult to identify who is culpable.
Jeremy Wright: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is possible to sell alcohol responsibly? If so, can a responsible seller of alcohol work next door to an irresponsible one in an alcohol disorder zone, and would it be right to penalise him?
Whether one sells alcohol responsibly or not, someone could buy one drink in one pub and another drink in another pub. A youngster could visit 10 pubs, and in each of them people could sell him alcohol responsibly. In each pub, he would have only one drink but there would be a cumulative effect, so that that youngster, or a group of youngsters, would go out and behave in a disorderly way.
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Sammy Wilson: No, I am not. I am arguing that where there are antisocial effects as a result of commercial activity there must a way of recouping the costs. I would like to put some questions to the Minister.