Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this evening's Adjournment debate. I represent the Kettering constituency and Kettering is the nightclub capital of Northamptonshire. I believe that many of my constituents will welcome both the debate that he has started this evening and his proposals for change. Kettering general hospital has a major accident and emergency department and I believe that many health service staff will also welcome the proposals that he is advancing this evening.
Mr. Lancaster: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, though I would, of course, dispute the fact that Kettering is the nightclub capital of the midlands, as I like to think that Milton Keynes isperhaps we should debate that at another time.
It is important to note that plastic bottles and glasses are recyclable. Britain's plastic bottles create 500,000 tonnes of waste every year, but many local councils now have recycling schemes that allow plastic to be reprocessed into various new products, including clothing and textiles.
The company Coors Brewers has also produced new containers made of reusable toughened plastic. They cost roughly the same as the traditional glass and are also unbreakable, which means that they cannot be smashed and used as dangerous weapons.
Glasgow city council is working towards becoming the UK's first glass-free city. In October, it introduced a compulsory ban on the sale of alcohol in glass bottles or containers in clubs. The conditions of that ban must be met by January 2006, and all other venues in Glasgow will be expected to follow suit within a year. Producers of top brands, including Stella, Budweiser, Foster's, Carling, Miller, Guinness and Tennants, support the principle behind that move, and I see no reason why the rest of the UK should not follow suit.
Unfortunately, despite positive steps by individual councils, bar chains and brewers, the Licensing Act 2003 merely calls for drinking establishments to look into adopting the use of toughened glass, but that substance cannot be used to produce bottles in the way that multilayered plastic can. In fact, the Government may be about to add to the problems with the implementation of the 2003 Act, which I and many others fear will lead to an explosion of binge drinking and antisocial behaviour.
A Home Office Research paper found that 39 per cent. of 18 to 24-year-olds are classified as binge drinkers. In 2003, moreover, 60 per cent. of binge drinkers admitted involvement in disorderly behaviour, compared to 25 per cent. of regular drinkers. Alcohol-related
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admissions cost the NHS £1.7 billion a year. The NHS and the police already face stretched budgets, and the police believe the cost to them of alcohol-related crime will exceed £1 billion.
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): This subject is of particular constituency interest to me, as a young woman called Louise McClintock lost an eye in a glass incident in Taunton. She was also severely scarred by the attack. May I commend the Somerset police force's initiative called "Drink Safe, Be Safe"? The police have worked with bars and other organisations, particularly in Taunton, to improve the safety of drinking environments, and have encouraged the use of plastic bottles and glasses. I hope that both the hon. Gentleman and the Minister will find an opportunity to come to Taunton and see the excellent progress that is being made.
Hospital staff have also raised concerns that the new licensing laws will lead to an increase in binge drinking and a rise in the number of assaults. Currently, 40 per cent. of accident and emergency admissions are alcohol related, and the proportion rises to 70 per cent. between midnight and 5 am.
An investigation into 24-hour drinking was carried out at Ninewells accident and emergency department in Dundee, where more flexible drinking hours already operate. Staff at Ninewells claimed that drink-related violence had got worse, with many more high-violence assaults resulting from people being involved in large fights. Many of the injuries sustained were caused by bottles and glass being used as weapons. That makes it even more crucial that we make it compulsory for clubs and bars to use only plastic glasses and bottles. We must do all we can to lessen the dangers to members of the public.
Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this excellent debate. Does he agree that much attention is rightly focused on the danger posed by knives, but that glass can be just as lethal and damaging to those against whom it is used?
Mr. Lancaster: I agree, but there have been suggestions that, even if my proposals were adopted, violent people would still find weapons such as knives, and that attacks would still occur. It has been said that my proposals may not be the answer to the problem, and I agree that promoting the use of plastic bottles and glasses does not tackle the wider issue of why people act violently, or of why binge drinking is such a problem in the UK. However, I do not accept that we should therefore forget about a compulsory change to plastic glasses and bottles. The fact remains that using only plastic will remove potential weapons that can inflict a great deal of harm. We would be taking glass out of the equation. How can that be a bad thing?
There may be a short-term cost implication for manufacturers in a switch to plastic and I appreciate their concerns about that. It may require price increases,
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but surely those will be outweighed if serious injuries are prevented. It is a small price to pay for preventing the physical and mental damage that a glass attack can cause.
There have been proposals for new measures in venue management; for example, ensuring a quicker collection of empties or altering the atmosphere in clubs and pubs. Introducing such measures is not enough, as it would not completely remove the risk. There would still be an opportunity for glass attacks to occur, and I do not want to see another person suffer injuries like those of Blake Golding.
My proposed change could save people's lives and will reduce the injuries that are sustained annually through bottle attacks. It is important to remember that any innocent person could be the victim of a glass attack, so I believe that removing that threat will be widely welcomed by Members on both sides of the House. Much more needs to be done to decrease antisocial behaviour in the UK.
Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I concur with what the hon. Gentleman is saying and with his suggestions. The violence in those attacks is undoubtedly fuelled beforehand by alcohol, so does not the hon. Gentleman believe that licensees have a role to play and that responsible licensees will ensure that their customers do not get to the stage where they commit attacks?
Mr. Lancaster: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. I do not suggest for a second that plastic is the only solution to the problem. It would form part of a number of measures and as he points out, the role of licensees would contribute to helping to reduce the violence.
I welcome anything that helps make pubs and clubs safer places to drink. It is important that we take these proposals forward now, rather than waiting till another person is scarred or, worse, killed as a result of an attack with glass.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): I congratulate the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) on securing this important debate, and I am glad to have an opportunity to discuss the issues he raised. I thank him for liaising with Home Office officials on the issue, which has been raised by several Members, as was reflected in their interventions describing their constituency experiences.
All Members present will want to join me in offering regrets and sympathies to Blake Golding and, in a way, our thanks for the fact that some good has come out of a terrible event, in the sense that we have been encouraged to campaign on this important matter and to address the consequence of glass being used as a weapon in cases such as those described by the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne). I particularly pay tribute to the way in which Blake Golding's parents, Robert and Marjorie, conducted their campaign following the incident. I saw
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Marjorie on television this morning and she said that her son's life had been turned upside down. There is a duty on Government to act effectively to ensure that nobody else's life is turned upside down. How do we do that?
Let us look at what is happening already. In Milton Keynes, partly as a result of the Goldings' campaign, the community safety partnership has a violence thematic subgroup, which is currently considering the introduction of plastic vessels in pubs and nightclubs. I am especially pleased to learn that the partnership will be participating in the alcohol misuse enforcement campaign that has just been announced, and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) referred.
The local police in Milton Keynes must also be commended for their overall approach to tackling the problem of alcohol-related violent crime and disorder. I understand that their proactive and targeted approach led to a reduction in public place violence offences of 39 per cent. between April and September 2005, compared with the same period in 2003, which is an impressive statistic. I believe that the proactive use of CCTV and fixed penalty notices has helped to contribute to that reduction. If alcohol misuse is going to be tackled effectively, full use needs to be made by all partners of the wide range of powers available.
Of course the police have an important role to play in preventing alcohol-fuelled disorder, but the drinks industry has an equally important role. As the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes pointed out, Bar Mee in Milton Keynes has undertaken to serve customers using only plastic vessels in future.
Milton Keynes local authority is currently discussing the issue and has an item for consideration by its licensing committee on 24 November in which it is proposed that licences should include a requirement
"to ensure that . . . all drinking vessels in which drinks are served throughout the entire trading period shall be made of either toughened glass, or a plastic material that does not break into sharp pieces . . . no drink shall be served in a glass bottle".
How can Milton Keynes do that? It is doing that on a notable daythe day on which the Licensing Act 2003, which the hon. Gentleman took the opportunity to try to defeat yesterday, comes into force. That can be done because of the powers in that Act. He is wrong to claim that the 2003 Act empowers local authorities to turn only to toughened glass. It empowers local authorities, such as Milton Keynes, which covers his constituency, not merely to require that toughened glass is used, but to put in place a requirement as part of its licensing regime that plastic vessels be used.