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I am grateful to Members on both sides of the House for their constructive approach during consideration of the Bill in Committee and on Report. Many helpful points, including points of clarification, were raised in Committee, which have enabled us to make more explicit the intention of the Bill and to improve it. I thank the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Benton) for their excellent chairmanship of our discussions.
I also thank the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who is not in the Chamber. I learned more about the Atholl Highlanders during the proceedings of the Bill than I could ever have contemplated. I also know more about managing a rural estate, which is how the hon. Gentleman seems to spend some of his time. The Committee stage was extremely good-natured.
I hope that Members will agree that we responded positively to many of the points raised and that the Bill we are sending to the other place has been significantly improved by the scrutiny process. I welcome the broad measure of cross-party support for many of the provisions. In Committee, we shared the desire to tackle gun and knife crime and to try to reduce the unacceptable, alcohol-fuelled violence and disorder,
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which we unfortunately see on too many of the streets of our towns and cities, to protect the decent, law-abiding majority of people.
The British crime survey data show considerable falls in violent crime since 1997a total fall of 34 per cent., which is significant by anybody's reckoningbut we are not complacent, nor would the public want us to be. Too many people are still victims of crime, including violent crime. Too many people live in fear of crime and we need to tackle that, too. We are doing everything we can to try to make a real difference and the Bill contains a good cross-section of provisions, giving the police and local communities the powers they need further to reduce violent crime, particularly in relation to knives, guns and alcohol.
Although most people drink responsibly, we all agree that the scale of alcohol-fuelled violence is too high. I believe that responsibility for ending the binge-drinking culture rests both with individuals, because it is important that they make correct choices about drinking, and with the people who run pubs, clubs, supermarkets and off-licences. I realise that the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) wanted to make a distinction between on and off-licence premises in terms of responsibility, but I reject such a distinction. If Members consider the results of the recent test purchasing in off-licence premises, they will see that there is still a significant problem of such premises selling to under-age youngsters. It is not simply a problem for the on-licence trade. Everybody has to take responsibility and the alcohol disorder zone provisions are about ensuring that collective responsibility.
We debated drinking banning orders at some length. I hope that Members will accept the difference between drinking banning orders and ASBOs, although I do not have a great deal of real hope in the case of the hon. Member for Woking. There is a significant difference. We want the orders to be used proactively by the courts whenever people come before them.
There is a series of exceptions to the drinking banning order, because we want to ensure that people can access their home, education and place of work, even when they are under a drinking banning order. We also said that people should still be able to attend their place of worship. That could help them to desist from the demon drink, so it will certainly be included as part of the guidance.
We debated alcohol disorder zones again today. The Bill tries to build on the efforts already made by responsible licensees. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (David Lepper) referred to business improvement districts. We talked about the Citysafe scheme in Manchester and similar schemes in Swansea, Leicester, Cardiff and York, where licensees are working voluntarily with their police and local councils to tackle the problems.
Members have expressed concerns that good operators will be caught with the bad ones. The hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) put the point extremely well: everybody is culpable but there should be differentiation in the degree of culpability. We shall try to achieve that in the regulations.
I am disappointed that the Liberal Democrats have continually moved amendments thatin the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North
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(Ms Keeble)would ensure that the provision for alcohol disorder zones was unworkable. We should be honest enough to say either that we support the principle of such zones and ensure that we have practical, effective legislation or that we do not support such zones and would do away with them. What causes me immense frustration is that, time and again, the Liberal Democrats will the ends but not the means.
The Liberal Democrats say that they are against antisocial behaviour, but they will not support ASBOs. They say that they are against gangs hanging around, but they will not support dispersal orders. They say that they want to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence, but are not prepared to support alcohol disorder zones. In politics, it is important that we are clear about what action we want to take. Theirs is a party that has not been in government and is not likely to be in government. It simply wills the ends but not the means to get there. Sometimes, government is about making some pretty hard decisions.
Mr. Kevan Jones : Does my right hon. Friend agree not only that the Liberal Democrats say one thing in the House and do another thing in the country, but that, tonight, Liberal Democrat Front Benchers have supported the perpetrators of crime, rather than the victims?
Hazel Blears: My hon. Friend makes a good point. When he put it to the Liberal Democrats earlier that perhaps they would like to include in their "Focus" leaflets their support of the human rights of the perpetrators of antisocial behaviour, he got a resounding silence from them.
Part 2 seeks to address a number of serious problems associated with armed crime and the misuse of imitation firearms, air weapons and knives. I am pleased that it has generally received broad support, although some minor issues have been raised. The appalling deaths and injuries that have been caused by gun and knife crime deeply hurt families and communities and leave a legacy of fear.
Ms Celia Barlow (Hove) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that airguns, which are sometimes called BB guns, can be used recreationally? Although I do not take part in such recreation, I am concerned that such legislation might damage sports such as airsoft or historical re-enactments. Does she agree that perhaps a distinguishing mark on the barrels of such guns could play a part in reducing the criminal use of such items?
Hazel Blears: It is excellent to see that Labour Members are interested in practical legislation that can work. I am delighted at my hon. Friend's suggestion. She will know that we have made some amendments to cover historical re-enactments and museums, and she makes an excellent suggestion in relation to airsoft. Clearly, if imitations are not realistic, they can be used in that fashion.
I may as well be even in my disappointment as between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. I was disappointed with the Conservatives in relation to mandatory sentences for people who seek to get others
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to hide and mind their guns for them. We included a provision that mandatory five-year sentences, such as those for the possession of weapons, would be imposed for seeking to use particularly children to mind illegal guns. Frankly, I was amazed at the Conservatives. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) said:
The Opposition must know that, since we introduced the mandatory five-year sentence for being in possession of an illegal gun, people have reduced their usage of real guns and moved to using imitations, which is why we have the provisions on the banning of realistic imitations.
Ms Dawn Butler (Brent, South) (Lab): I, too, was extremely disappointed with the Opposition's attempts to remove the mandatory five-year sentence. With a constituency such as mine, where we have a firearms-related incident every 17 days on average, the removal of such sentences would be absolutely detrimental to the good work that the police are doing in ensuring that gun crime is reduced. We should act responsibly when the Government introduce measures that will effectively save people's lives and ensure that younger people do not take up guns because they know that doing so will carry a mandatory five-year sentence.
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