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24 Jun 2008 : Column 51WH—continued

Making homes as safe as possible is important. The issue is high on my agenda and the debate is timely. I am pleased that my hon. Friend is keen to work with my officials on the consultation and to help us by providing information to inform our analysis; I welcome that both during and after the consultation period. I encourage my hon. Friend and others, such as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), to contact my Department so that together we can achieve our shared objectives. My officials’ details are in the consultation
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document, and they would be happy to discuss policy questions and the impact assessment spreadsheets. I am very happy to supply those spreadsheets to my hon. Friend, although I do not think that there will be any surprises in them. The analysts followed Treasury guidance, and all the data that were used are in the appendices of the published impact assessment. The analysis simply calculated the net present value of options over 10 years using a 3.5 per cent. discount factor.

In simple terms, we are looking for additional or alternative data to our data, which we have already published. My hon. Friend mentioned some new data, and I look forward to working with her on those specific issues. Although it would be very helpful to have the data in the set format, my officials would also be happy to accept them in whatever format they are provided and to discuss how to present them in the standard impact assessment template. Working through the data may help us to understand their background and meaning more fully.

I realise that my hon. Friend is also rightly interested in the timing of any changes, and she raised a valid point about when they could be made if new evidence changed the situation. I should point out to her that the consultation impact assessment is a draft. We have already said that we will, and I have committed publicly to this, recast it and re-examine all the options before we publish our final proposals. My hon. Friend will appreciate, however, that I cannot make changes when I do not have the evidence, or without warning or the right consultation. No one supports unnecessary delay, but let us look at the new evidence first before working out how it affects our next move. We must also remember that as important as the issue under discussion is, the consultation tackles other important safety and efficiency issues, too, which with luck, I shall have time to explain. We must not delay those changes as well.

There is a wider point: cutting the number of accidents in the home is something we can do most effectively as a joint effort. I am sure that my hon. Friend will recognise that regulation is not the single right answer that will solve the problem instantly. Departments, charities, landlords, public campaigns and the media also have a role to play in setting the right level of regulation and in finding the right way to tell people about the risks.

We know that there is a problem. As my hon. Friend said, there are about 20 deaths and 600 serious injuries per year owing to scalding at home—mostly in baths. As she most vividly pointed out, the majority of them are suffered by vulnerable people: young children or older people who are most at risk of injury and less able to react quickly to climb out of a scalding bath. The task for my Department is to understand how the building regulations should address and reduce that risk, and to ensure that as far as possible, we provide safe and sustainable buildings. Our role as regulators is to understand the evidence for all aspects of safety and to reflect it in the way in which we set and review regulations, so that we target the greatest risks—whether that involves hot water systems or other important issues, such as sound building structures, protection in the event of fire or the prevention of slips and falls.

I shall also explain how the building regulations operate, because it is an important point. The regulations cover all new homes, new non-domestic buildings and major works to existing buildings, but they have no
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control over minor works or replacements that are carried out daily in homes and in other buildings. They are also designed to be flexible: rather than set prescriptive standards, we set functional requirements and offer guidance on how to meet them in common situations. Designers and builders are not forced to use the suggested methods; a building can meet the requirements innovatively or differently, or it can go beyond the standards. However, in respect of part G of the building regulations, which my hon. Friend mentioned, we announced in statements last June and July that the review would not only address necessary updates for new legislation, but broaden part G’s scope to tackle two major policy issues. The first is water efficiency standards, which are important, and the second is the safety of hot water systems. That was and remains a very high-profile issue. Scalding from water released by cisterns that overflow or burst has been the cause of two fatalities in recent years. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome mentioned the appalling case in his constituency, and we have proposed measures to ensure that cisterns can resist pressure and certain temperatures in the event of a fault.

Today’s debate also focused on another risk: scalding from hot water in baths, showers and sinks. My hon. Friend gave us some of the appalling statistics and told us about the horrific suffering of victims and their families. Her work and that of the Hot Water Burns Like Fire campaign has been very valuable. I should like to work with her further to ensure that what we achieve is what we both want.

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Policing (City of London)

1 pm

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): Violent crime, antisocial behaviour and alcohol-fuelled disorder, most recently highlighted by the Home Office’s hard-hitting adverts on youth drinking, have rarely been out of the headlines in recent months. A great deal of the burden is borne by our town centres throughout the nation where people gather to drink and revellers spill out of pubs and clubs into the streets.

In my central London constituency, the night-time economy booms, and undoubtedly contributes to the capital’s vibrancy. But it also places undeniably great pressure on my two local authorities, stretches our emergency services, and causes trouble for the increasingly important and perhaps overlooked residential population. The impact of the Licensing Act 2003 and the gathering of smokers outside licensed premises only serve to highlight the alcohol-related disorder more vividly.

The Minister may assure me that those problems are by no means unique to my constituency. Up and down the country, police and paramedics deal with depressing regularity with the fallout of our excesses, but such problems are being felt acutely in the City of London. In its small area—one square mile—which supports a residential population of just 8,000, the number of premises with public entertainment licences operating beyond 2 am stood at 11 before the new licensing legislation came into force in 2005. Today, that number has leaped to 64 such premises. That increase has seen as many as 10,000 people partying in the City at any one time, and has transformed the area from one that has traditionally been empty in the evenings and at weekends, to a place where an increasing number of people who neither work nor live in the City arrive to go drinking and clubbing.

The City of London police are incredibly responsive and have done a fantastic job in minimising the negative impact of the night-time economy. Yet the funding package allocated by the Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government for the next three years neither reflects the changing situation on the ground nor recognises the City force’s national responsibilities in protecting us from terrorism and international fraud. If the Government expect emergency services and local authorities throughout the country to deal with the impact of a changing night time, adequate support must be provided.

Evenings and weekends in the square mile have, until recently, been quiet, but with the increase in the number of licensed premises and the large independent promotional events that are gaining popularity, the City is beginning to provide an exciting alternative to the west end. It has welcomed its burgeoning night-time economy as reinforcing London’s status as a world-class capital, and the vast majority of the licensees and patrons are well behaved. That must be stressed when discussing the issue throughout the country. They are keen to work with the City of London police and the corporation to reduce any negative effects of their presence.

However, problems have arisen from the extended hours that are now afforded to such a large number of premises. They have attracted to the square mile promoters who take advantage of the City’s safe environment and
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its wealth of large venues with late licences to host big events. Such promoters draw in crowds of people who neither work nor live in the City and who remain at the venues until the early hours of the morning, often beyond 4 am. Individual clubs may attract as many as 1,200 people in an evening and up to 2,000 may be dispersed on to the City’s relatively quiet streets as the clubs close their doors.

With such large numbers gathering, the City has seen a dramatic increase in alcohol-fuelled violence. Wounding and common assault have been identified as two distinct areas where crime is heavily on the increase in the City and which the City force believes are specifically related to the growing night-time economy. More worryingly, in recent months there have been two murders at licensed premises in the City of London.

There are increasing incidents of noise disturbance, street urination, vomiting and illegal parking. The city street cleansing system has been put under significant strain in dealing with the large amounts of cigarette litter and advertising fliers discarded on the pavements. At residents meetings, constituents have spoken passionately about the diminution in their quality of life. Business rate payers have also expressed deep concern about the damage to property caused by the growing night-time economy.

I witnessed first hand the burden that is put on people when I joined the City force’s special constabulary on one of its busy Friday-night shifts at the end of last year. Most of the incidents to which my team was called involved people who had come to the City for a night out. Many of the incidents had been fuelled by alcohol; there were drunken brawls outside bars and people slumped in doorways, too inebriated to function properly.

My researcher went out with the City force to help with its rough sleepers count and had the chance to speak with officers about the pressures that they faced. Late licensing has emerged as one of their primary concerns. Officers agreed that since the new licensing regime came into force, their jobs had become significantly more challenging.

Like many authorities across the country, the City of London is taking a very joined-up approach to dealing with the negative impact of the night-time economy. It is not only looking at what the City of London police force can do through law enforcement but re-examining what can be achieved in terms of licensing and environmental protection. The City’s team has, for example, been learning from Birmingham city council, which has presided over a dramatic increase in Birmingham city centre’s night-time economy since the Licensing Act was implemented. Key stakeholders in Birmingham—the police, the fire service, trading standards and licensed premises themselves—have worked together to reduce the problems associated with the growing number of bars and clubs in the city centre. There has been a highly visible but light-touch police presence, with a particular focus on dispersing large crowds quickly.

The City has brought several of those lessons back to London and it has made reducing the impact of the night-time economy one of its six priority areas over the next three years. It intends to establish a dedicated team to oversee licensing issues, make more visits to licensed premises when they are open and identify problem
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premises. The team will adopt the tactics of engagement and enforcement. In addition, the City force has appointed an inspector specifically to lead on this issue, as well as a lawyer to take a robust approach to those who flout the terms of their licences.

Through initiatives such as risk assessment for promoted events, the City is also working in tandem with Westminster city council to its west. The City police are accessing information supplied by the Metropolitan police, who have responsibility for all areas in the metropolis outside the square mile, and working together with their vice unit to deal with this new phenomenon. Encouraging intelligence and information-sharing is key, and such measures will be backed by new shift patterns at weekends and late at night to allow a greater police presence on the street.

To that extent, it is only fair to say that the Home Office has been very aware of the concerns, and I appreciate that a lot of this good national practice has come from Home Office initiatives. Much depends, however, not just on diktats from on high, but on local agencies working closely together. I am sure that there are great successes in some places, such as the City of London, but current arrangements in other places leave much more to be desired.

Softer measures, such as taxi marshalling schemes to remove some of the 2,000 people who can be dispersed at any one time, have played a significant role in reducing disorder. I am sure that such programmes will continue apace. The City of London’s director of environmental services is also considering the deployment of new inspectors to cover the streets during evenings and early mornings. Their role would be to enforce rules on licensing, noise, smoking and parking.

But—I fear that there is always a “but” on these matters—the City police’s rough calculation of the relatively new costs that the force is incurring as a result of the developing night-time economy is £968,000 for the year. Let me list what that cost is made up of. The cost of overtime to assist with night duty, which applies on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, comes to £102,000. An Easter operation on motor defence cost £79,500. The two-week run-up to the festive season cost £13,500 on top of the usual budget. An inspector and sergeant in licensing roles cost £125,000. Two additional ward constables, who deal with a lot of this night-time economy, cost another £90,000. Likewise, a constable attached to the CO14 clubs and vice team costs £45,000. Major incident inquiries, in relation to the two murders and shootings to which I referred earlier, cost more than £500,000. The total is, as I say, almost £1 million for this year.

The police tell me that all these figures are directly attributable to a burgeoning night-time economy. One might argue that, to a certain extent, a lot of the activity associated with that economy has been transferred from other areas, either other parts of London or other areas in the home counties and the south-east, and it is now focused on the City of London, which, as I have mentioned, now has about 64 premises, rather than 11, that are licensed to stay open beyond 2am.

The licensing posts, for example, were not previously anticipated, even when the new legislation came into place five years ago. They were introduced to address the licensing issues that have been raised as a result of
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the night-time economy and the officers in those posts effectively supplement the existing support staff for licensing.

The seasonal costs were for operations dealing with specific late-night events at venues that required additional policing and not simply for additional policing at bank holidays. The same is true of the costs associated with the major incident inquiries following the murders and the shooting in the City, which occurred at events that would not previously have been held in the City.

So this is a pretty extensive new burden on the City of London Police. The rapid way in which the situation has changed in the square mile means that the City’s force has had to adapt equally rapidly and is having to find resources to deal with problems that barely existed only a few years ago.

I have expressed in the House before my great admiration for the City of London police. They have a unique role and a record of success that make them stand out as a model for effective, localised and adaptable policing. The City force ensures the safety and security of the square mile not only for its 8,000 residents but for its 300,000 daily workers, those who visit the capital and the large numbers of people who, as I have mentioned, arrive in the centre of London for a good night out.

The Government have also come to rely on the City force to help with some of their broader objectives, namely counter-terrorism and combating white collar crime. The force reaches across regional, national and even international boundaries in policing global business, and its economic crime unit boasts the largest fraud squad in Europe. The increasingly globalised world in which we live has inevitably meant that there has been an increasingly large burden placed on the force over the last decade.

Indeed, the force’s high degree of experience in the investigation of white collar crime has led the Government to grant it lead force status for fraud cases across the whole of south-east England. The force even works with the Department for International Development to investigate allegations of overseas corruption.

Furthermore, the City’s force is uniquely prepared to deal with the threat of terrorism, as a result of its own experience in the early 1990s in dealing with bombing campaigns by terrorists from Northern Ireland. Its state-of-the-art technology and its restructured policing methods, both of which I have seen on the ground, mean that the force can provide the Government with a wealth of expertise in this sector—expertise that is crucial at this time of heightened security.

Unfortunately, it seems to be the case that, despite working beyond its boundaries as a trusted, reliable and frequently utilised resource, the City of London police force is not receiving the funds from the Government that I believe it is entitled to. The force has ended up with a grant allocation below the level that even the Government themselves have judged necessary to deliver their policing agenda. The Home Office set a minimum grant increase at 2.5 per cent. in each of the three years of the next spending round. No other police authority, apart from the City force, is to receive a grant increase below the minimum, but the figures announced by the Home Secretary in December and confirmed by the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and
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Policing in January show a decrease in police-specific grant from £22.8 million in 2007-08 to £20.2 million in 2008-09.

There are some specific issues that I do not necessarily expect the Minister to comment on now. These are issues that I have dealt with on the Floor of the House in relation to the Department for Communities and Local Government, and I appreciate that elements of the funding formula are both of historic importance and quite unique to the City police force. Therefore, I hope that, in being able perhaps to do something for the City police force, the Government will not set a precedent that will apply to each of the other local police authorities.

I expressed at the time my severe reservations about the change in licensing laws and my concerns about the unforeseen circumstances of a smoking ban. Those changes have gone through, and I do not wish to go into great detail about their pros and cons. We now need to deal with the problems that are being caused in city and town centres up and down the country by late opening hours for licensed premises and by the number of bars, pubs and clubs that have sprung up in certain areas.

Those problems are being witnessed in both halves of my constituency, but are particularly evident in the City of London. It has gone from being a virtual ghost town at nights and weekends to having to deal with an increase in violence and the antisocial behaviour of vomiting and urination, as out-of-towners are encouraged into London’s centre. Given the City of London police force’s prominence in dealing with a range of Government objectives that go beyond its immediate duties, it is a little disappointing, to say the least, that the funding package offered has not been up to scratch. To ensure that the City can continue to provide people with a safe area in which to live, work and enjoy themselves, it is only fair that the Government acknowledge the impact of their policies and reconsider how best to compensate for them.

The technical reasons why the City has done so badly are to be found in how the grant formula works. I appreciate that that argument is replayed across the country, and I do not wish to get tied up in its technicalities, particularly as we anticipate the imminent Flanagan review of the matter. However, that should not mask the essential point that the current formula simply does not work for the City of London. There is a longer-term need to put the City’s police funding arrangements on a basis that takes account of both the City’s unique circumstances and the responsibilities of the police force, and that properly reflects territorial policing needs in the square mile in the light of the new challenges. Inevitably, all 646 of us regard our own constituencies as unique, but a lot could be done for the City of London police with a relatively small amount of money without necessarily setting a precedent.

Will the Minister review the current arrangements or consider meeting both myself and Simon Duckworth, the new chairman of the City of London’s police committee, to discuss our concerns in more depth?

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