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The “three strikes and you’re out” rule, too, is important in the context of young people drinking in public places. Of course, there will need to be some care in its management
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and interpretation, for example in deciding whether a park is a public place. The police will need to give some thought to how they manage it, but we must bear in mind the fact that in Northampton town centre, for example, there is a ban on drinking in public. The police use such measures on a voluntary basis, and there is a possibility of making them available nationally and in an organised way.

One matter that I ask the Government to consider really carefully is the mandatory code. I very much welcome it, but it will need to be tough and it will need substantial measures to deal with the real problems that arise from alcohol sales. Why are there to be only nine conditions? Why cannot the appropriate number of conditions emerge from the consultation? Of course, the code will depend on secondary legislation, but will it cover labelling and the number of units in a drink, advertising, promotions, and the stocking and location of shelves in supermarkets, so that shelves stocking alcohol are clearly signed and located in particular places? Otherwise, as people walk around shops where the primary purpose is to sell food they become increasingly aware of alcohol on the shelves and piled up on the floor next to the till. That particularly applies before a bank holiday or when there is a big sports match on TV. Will there be provision in the mandatory code to deal with some of the price cuts and discounting that are so incredibly damaging?

I believe strongly that there is a real need for much tougher action to deal with the problem of alcohol sales, particularly to younger people. The Sheffield research showed clearly the link between price and availability, and consumption. It made the case strongly for minimum pricing of alcohol. As I said in an intervention on the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), the research shows that a 40p minimum price would cut binge drinking, would not affect responsible drinkers, and would reduce hospital admissions by 41,000 a year and crime by 16,000 a year. Minimum pricing is strongly supported by many groups that are concerned with the matter, and by the on-licence trade because it would provide more of a level playing field between the on-licence and off-licence trade.

Will the Minister talk to his colleagues and consider whether tax concessions on white cider could be changed in the next Budget cycle? The tax regime for cider and perry pricing was designed to encourage small producers and fruit growers, not to subsidise some of the most pernicious forms of alcohol that are sold in the shops. Anyone who has seen White Lightning piled up on the bottom shelves of supermarkets knows that its price way undercuts that of other drinks. The duty on a pint of cider, whatever its strength, is only 16p, but it is between 35p and 59p on beer, depending on its alcoholic strength. There is no logic or rationale for such a price differential.

My concerns about binge drinking are rooted in my constituents’ experiences. One constituent’s son was killed after a happy hour promotion, and people who live near a park in Moulton Leys have had their lives made a misery by young people who gather there, and whose behaviour deteriorates when they are given drink. I welcome the proposals, but I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to give them greater consideration and to be tougher.

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8.3 pm

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): As always, I begin by declaring an interest as a Crown court recorder and a district judge sitting all over London and the south-east. I hope that my hon. Friends agree that one of this Labour Government’s greatest failures over the past 12 years has been their crime and law and order policy I have witnessed anecdotally in court—we all know it to be true—a huge increase in murders, gun crime, knife crime, and crimes of violence generally. That increase has been horrific, and has brought great distress and upset to many right-thinking members of society. The real problem, which we never seem to get to grips with, is the Government’s failure to ensure that our existing law is properly enforced by police on the streets and by the courts. Failure to enforce existing law is an accusation to which the Government must plead guilty.

Another problem is detection rates. It is usually said that a criminal’s greatest fear is being caught, not whether the maximum sentence is three years or six years, or whether the Daily Mail had a decent headline last week about this or that. Being caught is the greatest fear, and detection rates under this Government have fallen dramatically.

I asked a parliamentary question about burglaries in Surrey in the past few years to find out about detection rates. Do you know what the answer was, Madam Deputy Speaker? One in 10 is successfully detected. To put that in another way, nine out of 10 burglars know that they will get away scot-free. No wonder crime is on the increase.

Here is a little point. I wonder whether the Minister knows about a problem in the courts with the police whereby many assaults that amount to actual bodily harm—they are serious crimes, which can go to the Crown court and carry several years’ imprisonment—are charged by the Crown Prosecution Service as common assault under section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. Why? First, because it is simpler; secondly, because common assault cannot go to the Crown court; and thirdly, because it is more likely that there will be a guilty plea and the matter can be dealt with quickly. The result is that many crimes are not being charged as the serious crimes that they are.

What about tonight’s speeches? The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) made a passionate speech, and I respect her for what she said. She talked about violence to prostitutes, and of course everyone in this House of Commons hates that. She talked about pimping, and of course we are against that. She also talked about traffickers. My goodness, I wish that more of them were brought before the courts so that they could receive the condign sentences. She talked about common prostitutes. In the courts in which I sit, I have seen those pathetic individuals, and my sympathies and those of many of my hon. Friends for them is no less than the hon. Lady’s. I see ruined bodies and ruined young women, and class A drug addicts. Some may have pimps and some may not, but they are ruined. Do I believe that clause 13 of the Bill will sort out their lives? No, I do not. What is needed to sort out their lives is the ability to get a life away from the drugs that have ruined them over so many years. The very fact that I believe that clause 13 will be bad law does not mean that I fail to
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share some of the hon. Lady’s views. I do share them in terms of the horror at much of what goes on in society at the moment.

I also share the views expressed so ably by my hon. Friends the Members for Totnes (Mr. Steen) and for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), who said that clause 13 will be bad law. It will be bad law. Let us see what it says. It says that a person commits an offence if he

and any of the prostitute’s

party. Here is the rub.

whether the person buying the services

the prostitute’s

That is irrelevant under the clause, and I believe that that is wrong. I really believe that that should not be an offence of strict liability like crossing a traffic light or breaking a speed limit. There must be a mental element, and it would be very bad law, difficult to enforce and wrong if the Bill were passed in its present state.

Fiona Mactaggart: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that were there a mental element, as he requests, the proper charge against a man who pays for sexual services would be rape, because there is no way that the woman would have consented to the act?

Mr. Malins: That is an unreal comment. I am referring to a situation in which there is no defence whatever for going to a prostitute, whether it is a women going to a male gigolo—prostitution works with both men and women—or a man going to a women prostitute. It seems to be wrong in principle that there is simply no defence available if those women are controlled in their activities.

The next part of clause 13 says that it is

That means, unless I am mistaken, that a person who arranges for sexual services in a foreign country from somebody who may or may not be controlled may be guilty of an offence if that person is controlled, even if the act is to take place abroad. How odd it would be and what bad law it would be if a person in this country were convicted of an offence in this country in relation to something that had not yet happened—but which he had arranged—in a country where such activity is entirely legal.

I need hardly draw to your attention, Madam Deputy Speaker—in fact, I think I may have to draw this to your attention, because you will not know about it—that in certain countries there are state-run brothels. Indeed, some brothels are organised by the state or a municipal authority. Presumably those organisers have, strictly speaking, some form of control, through rent or a levy on the takings of the person concerned. It seems ridiculous that a person may go to an official brothel abroad or to
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a country where prostitution is entirely lawful and find himself or herself guilty of a crime in this country. That is wrong and the Bill will need amendment.

I will tell you one thing, Madam Deputy Speaker: for all the Minister’s talk about consulting widely on the provision, I can tell him that those to whom I have spoken, in the police and throughout the judiciary, think that clause 13 as drafted will be bad law. They think that there will be a huge problem with evidential matters. Let us imagine someone pleading not guilty at Camberwell Green magistrates court to going to a prostitute in Taiwan who was controlled. I am trying not to be flippant, but let us imagine the problems in calling evidence, not only from abroad if the prostitute was abroad, but in the UK. There will be huge evidential problems. My forecast is that in the first year of the provisions being on the statute book, there will be few if any prosecutions, and all this at a time when the plight of prostitutes in this country is dire, because of other matters, such as pimping and drugs, to which we should give much more attention.

Enough of that. What of other matters? What of clause 26? This touches on my earlier point about law that is not enforced—law that is ridiculous. Let us look at clause 26 for a moment. It increases the penalty for consuming alcohol in a designated public place from level 2 to level 4—that is, from something like £500 to £2,500. All that the Home Secretary could say to me earlier was that the proposal sends out a message. But what on earth is the use of that, when in the past few years nobody has been fined more than £250? Does the Minister know that under the fines system, which, by the Government’s own strictures, now means that fines have to be within certain confines relating to the defendant’s means, it will be practically impossible to fine anybody more than £100 for that offence, because they are all on benefits or low incomes? The proposal is absolute nonsense—yet again, a flagship headline that will get the Government overnight popularity.

Clause 29 creates the offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place three times in 12 consecutive months. Why three times? It is ridiculous. Why not twice? Why not once? Why not four times? The Government get worse. Under the Licensing Act 2003, it is an offence to sell alcohol within three months to children on three occasions. Wow! Look what is happening now: “We’re going to change it to selling on two separate occasions. This is the flagship!” Is the Minister serious? Does he think that there have been a lot of prosecutions for selling three times? Is it not an offence to sell alcohol to children once? What is the magic about two?

What on earth is going on? The answer is not a lot. We are blessed with Home Office Ministers who, frankly, thrive on the oxygen of a good headline and who pass more and more laws, each of them meaningless and not enforced, and with a Government who gloss over the truth of what is happening on the streets. Until we get a Government who enforce the existing law, our crime and disorder problems will continue to escalate.

8.14 pm

Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): I welcome the Bill, particularly the measures that relate to the licensing of lap dancing and those that tackle alcohol-fuelled crime.

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I have been working on the issue of licensing lap-dancing clubs over the past two and a half years or so. Constituents first contacted me when the Picture House nightclub in my constituency applied to be a lap-dancing club. It would have been the second lap-dancing club in the town, within a matter of yards of the first. Despite strong and convincing objections, the licence was granted. That brought home to me just how large the loophole in the legislation is and how little the quality of life and the views of my constituents counted.

The current four licensing objectives are insufficient and do not reflect the concerns that a community might have, including about the character and quality of life in an area and how residents, local businesses, workers and shoppers may be affected. Such things cannot be considered under the present system. It was unacceptable that someone could object to their neighbour building a porch or a conservatory, but not to a lap-dancing club next door or more than 100 yd from their home.

I became involved in the Object Fawcett campaign, which built up a coalition of MPs, peers, academics, councillors, residents and grass-roots support throughout the country. I was a co-sponsor of a ten-minute Bill dealing with the issue and tabled an early-day motion that received 119 signatories. I welcome the fact that the Tory party now officially supports the measures, albeit late to the fight and after a great deal of adverse publicity arising from the offer of a voucher to the Rocket lap-dancing club, during the party conference in Birmingham. I am told that the Tory shadow Chancellor—he still is the shadow Chancellor, isn’t he?—is fond of saying that the Tories will make a difference. Well, they certainly did in Birmingham, because takings rocketed during their conference week in Brum.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friends the Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Campbell) for picking up the issue and for listening to my constituents.

I welcome clause 25(4), which will allow local authorities to set a limit on the number of sex establishments of a particular type in an area. Interestingly, I have received correspondence on that point from women in the business who are concerned about the ease with which establishments could open. The opening of too many establishments could affect the little control that those women have over what they have to do for their money. Quite simply, if a woman in the club down the road was allowing punters to touch her, other women might have to do the same or possibly more to keep their punters.

It became clear to me through speaking to current and ex-lap dancers that, more often than not, it is they who are being exploited. The majority put up with working conditions that no union would allow and little or no employment rights. For a pitch—that is, for the privilege of dancing for gentlemen—they have to pay anything from £50 up to £250. Those women pay for drinks and costumes, and they are encouraged to pump their gentlemen for expensive cocktails and champagne. The women do not get to keep their earnings and many cannot join a union.

I am glad that Ministers were not convinced by the arguments of the chairman of the Lap Dancing Association, Mr. Simon Warr, who claimed to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport that lap dancing
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is “not sexually stimulating” and that clubs provide hospitality rather than sexual services. Bizarrely, and for the first time in my life, I agree with Peter Stringfellow, who told the same Committee:

However, I did not agree with his further comment:

Of course lap dancing has some form of sex. Given Mr. Stringfellow’s well-reported support of the Conservative party, I wonder whether he represents its more erudite wing.

Along with my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods), I am concerned about the exemption in proposed new paragraph 2A(3)(b) of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, in clause 25(3), for premises holding lap-dancing events less than once a month. Temporary event notices cannot be opposed by a local council and are automatically granted. Residents therefore find themselves without even the limited means of objecting under the Licensing Act 2003. I believe that that contradicts the main aim underpinning the proposed reforms, which is to empower local communities as fully as possible. I argue that exemptions should be amended, to avoid creating further loopholes.

I am the chair of the all-party group on alcohol misuse, and I am particularly concerned about the proposals on alcohol. The Bill contains an enabling power for a statutory code of practice on the supply of alcohol, allowing the Secretary of State to prescribe mandatory conditions for all licensed premises without conditions. I support the measure, because the aim of encouraging the more responsible sale of alcohol is important. My concern, which is shared by Alcohol Concern, is that there is no centrally held register of licensees. That means that individuals who have had their licence revoked may apply for a new one in another local authority area, which cannot easily access information about the applicant’s former conduct. It seems sensible to introduce a centrally held register of licensees, and I urge the Minister to consider that proposal.

I broadly welcome the measures on the new offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place, about which my constituents and the local police are concerned. However, we need to be aware that simply putting more young people into the criminal justice system is not always the most productive way of addressing the problem of alcohol misuse. In addition to the new powers, we need to focus on more early intervention for people of all ages. Schemes such as the Home Office-approved one in Dudley borough, run by Aquarius, deserve more investment. The scheme aims to reduce alcohol-related reoffending by changing people’s behaviour, and it is a proven success. A recent evaluation showed that, among the people who had attended, overall reoffending in Dudley was down by 49 per cent., and alcohol-related reoffending was down by 12 per cent. The scheme is also accessing people at an earlier stage in their drinking, including younger people, binge drinkers and perpetrators of domestic violence, none of whom would normally contact an alcohol service. Such schemes make a huge difference across the borough, and we should do more to support them across the country.

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