|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
: Does the Minister believe that the Licensing Act 2003, which is due to come into force on 24 November, will reduce the overall incidence of alcohol-related violent crime in the year after its introduction? If it does not, will a Minister or two consider resigning?
16 Nov 2005 : Column 1079
Fiona Mactaggart: I am going to continue to show how we have built on to the framework of the Licensing Act, to intervene effectively if violence increases as a consequence of late-night drinking. If the hon. Gentleman will give me time to proceed to the further legislative measures that we are introducing, I hope that he will recognise that the Conservative party was mistaken in its attempt to get rid of the way in which what the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes rightly referred to as an historically unaddressed issueglass bottlescan be dealt with effectively.
The 2003 Act gives more power than ever before to local licensing authorities to manage premises that are offered licences. It now includes provisions that enable the police to close instantly for up to 24 hours licensed premises where disorder is occurring or is imminent and presents a danger to people there. The police may extend the period of closure until the courts can take responsibility for the matter. The courts may further extend the period of closure until the licence has been reviewed by the licensing authority.
Following a review hearing, the licensing authority is given substantial powers to act where it is necessary to promote the prevention of crime and disorder and public safety. For example, it may add new conditions to the licence, such as requiring a ban on the sale of alcohol in bottles and on the removal from the premises of bottles and open vessels, such as beer glasses, and requiring alcohol to be served in plastic containers or toughened glass. Such conditions might apply at certain times of the day or on certain days of the week. They are all included as possible conditions in the guidance that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport issued to licensing authorities, with the approval of Parliament, in July 2004.
Local licensing authorities can decide to add conditions to new or varied licences. Virtually all premises that have sought variations to the licences during the transitional period between the old and the new licensing regimes have had new conditions attached to their licences that have often been promoted by the police. Again, the conditions have drawn on the guidance issued by the Secretary of State as appropriate and necessary.
If licence conditions are breached following a review, the licensing authorities have strong powers to suspend licences for between one day and three months, or to revoke a licence permanently. Premises licence holders may also be prosecuted for breaching their licence conditions and can face sentences of a fine not exceeding £20,000, or imprisonment for up to six months, or both. The Licensing Act 2003 gives local authorities the power to target premises that have problems with alcohol-related violent crime and disorder and to attach conditions to their licences.
I believe that those tools are important and that the introduction of a blanket ban through primary legislation would be disproportionate for areas that do not require such action. Nevertheless, we have toughened the regime that is available to deal with glass being used as a weapon as a result of alcohol-fuelled violence.
The Violent Crime Reduction Bill builds on the foundation that I have described. In January 2005, the Government published a consultation paper,
16 Nov 2005 : Column 1080
"Drinking Responsibly: The Government's Proposals". It set out several proposals for helping to tackle the problems of alcohol misuse, including plans for introducing drinking banning orders and powers for local authorities and the police to designate alcohol disorder zones and to charge licensed premises for the cost of dealing with alcohol-related crime and disorder. Drinking banning orders will bar people who have too much to drink and then commit crime or behave in a disorderly manner from licensed premises within a certain locality for a period between two months and two years.
On 8 June, we introduced the Violent Crime Reduction Bill. The Bill completed its proceedings on Report and Third Reading this weekon 14 November 2005. The Bill includes a comprehensive package of measures that are aimed at combating violent crime, of which the proposals to deal with alcohol-fuelled violent crime are part.
I would like to highlight one of the new powers in particular because I believe that it is relevant to the issues that the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes raised. There will be a new police power to require an expedited review of an alcohol licence. An expedited review is a mechanism by which the police can apply to the local licensing authority for the review of a premises licence if premises are associated with serious crime or disorder. Let us make no mistake: an incident of someone being stabbed in the face with a glass or a bottle amounts to serious crime or disorder.
The process allows interim steps pending a review to be taken against premises within 48 hours of the receipt of an application. The licensing authority must undertake to review the licence within 28 days of receipt of the application. Interim steps can include attaching conditions to the licence, such as the need to use plastic vessels or toughened glass. Although it is possible for the police to apply for licence reviews under the Licensing Act, the Violent Crime Reduction Bill will allow the police to make a rapid response to tackle serious crime and disorder. The measure will be a vital tool for the police and licensing authorities throughout the country when dealing with alcohol-related violent crime and disorder.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the role of the industry. It has a vital role to play in minimising the risks of alcohol misuse. In individual establishments, there is a wide range of steps that can usefully be taken to minimise the risk of such injuries, including educating customers, licensees and staff about the possible dangers arising from the careless use of glass, ensuring that bar staff are diligent in collecting empty bottles and glasses, thus reducing the possibility of accidental harm, and ensuring that licensees and door staff keep a tight rein on their bottles and glasses and prevent them from being removed so that they cannot cause injury or other problems to people leaving the premises.
I am pleased with the efforts made by the drinks industry to promote the use of toughened glass in pubs and clubs. The industry estimates that between 80 and 90 per cent. of pubs and clubs use toughened glass as a standard. It is pleasing that brewers are now beginning to use bottles that are made of toughened plasticthe hon. Gentleman referred to the work of Coors in that regard. In addition, there is an important role for local authorities to play in helping to manage the night-time
16 Nov 2005 : Column 1081
economy. That includes ensuring that sufficient secure bottle banks are provided in the right locations and emptied regularly to provide a safe place for bottles to be disposed of when, for example, they are confiscated by the police. That helps to reduce the risk of bottles being used as weapons.
I acknowledge that the problems of alcohol misuse are especially present on the streets. Responsibility for ending the binge-drinking culture lies with the individual as much as, if not more than, it lies with the industry and licensed premises. Extensive use has been made of the fixed penalty notice for disorder scheme for alcohol-related offences, and a range of other tools have been used to tackle problems of alcohol misuse in the public space.
As I said, through the Violent Crime Reduction Bill we are introducing a new civil ordera drinking banning orderwhich will be available to the courts to use to protect people and their property from criminal or disorderly conduct by an individual when under the influence of alcohol. The Bill also provides new powers for the police and local authorities to designate alcohol disorder zones as a last resort where other methods have been tried to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder but have not worked. That will enable the police and local authorities to require licensed premises to undertake measures to prevent alcohol-related violence, including the use of toughened glass and plastic bottles, and to charge for individual enforcement services. The measures in the Bill will complement
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|