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This is, of course, connected with the issue of discretion. The Minister will doubtless seek to rely on amended guidance to address the dispersal of those under 16, and on the police's duty under section 11 of the Children Act 2004 to have regard to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in carrying out their functions. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how moving on a 10, 11 or 12-year-old who is at risk of causing disorder can be the most appropriate course of action. Surely at the very least there should be a presumption that a teenager falling within the ambit of those provisions should be taken home, or to a safe place. If a child is at risk of offending, that should be flagged up to ensure that the offending does not subsequently occur. We should be talking about prevention, and about the need to address the risk by more concerted action than simply moving the problem to a different location.
I understand the point that was made about large groups of teenagers. Perhaps it is in that context that the Government seek to extend the power to deal with those under the age of 16. However, the amended power needs to be used with great care. The well-being and welfare of young children-let me put it that way-must be at the forefront of what we are trying to achieve. Our aim must be to prevent them from offending and to ensure that their own safety is not put at risk in any way.
Lords amendment 29, which would insert a new clause after clause 32, concerns interested parties. In Committee, we discussed the absurdity of the current position. Local councillors seem to be unable to issue objections to licensing applications in their own areas if they live outside a restricted zone containing the licensed premises. I think that ensuring that the interests of local communities in respect of the licensing laws are properly reflected is a move in the right direction, but in our view that is only a start. Much more fundamental reform of the licensing laws is required to rebalance the provisions in favour of local communities and local authorities.
We look forward to continuing the debate on more effective use of licensing powers to control the excesses of alcohol in communities and to start to deal with the abuses that binge drinking has brought, and continues to bring, to many of our neighbourhoods and communities throughout the country.
Keith Vaz: It is most pleasing to see Government and Opposition working together to try to strengthen proposed legislation before it becomes law, rather than passing legislation before reflecting on it and wanting to change some of it, which is what we have done over the past 10 years in respect of the so-called 24-hour drinking culture.
I commend the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) for what he said about alcohol abuse. The Government have rightly ensured that penalties will be tougher and that there will be stronger provisions to deal with alcohol abuse, which remains a key issue for local communities. As he told us, 50 per cent. of crime in this country is in some way alcohol-related. Any hon. Member who represents a town or city will be aware of the disorder that occurs on Friday and Saturday nights as a result of alcohol abuse, for it is there for all to see.
Police budgets are relevant to the problem. The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, who is on the Front Bench today, will appear before the Home Affairs Committee to talk about police numbers on, I believe, 24 November. If we are to ensure that resources are properly directed so that the police can do their job, we must also ensure that we do not put in the way obstacles such as the availability of alcohol. So much police time is taken up by dealing with violence in city centres on Friday and Saturday evenings.
I welcome what the Government have done in the amendments. I think that the toughening of the penalties is extremely appropriate. I also welcome what the Opposition have done. I have only one caveat. The Select Committee has consistently pressed the Government on the issue of a floor price for alcohol, which we believe would deal with the problem of the availability of cheap alcohol in supermarkets. There is no point in tabling amendments, proposing legislation affecting licensed premises and urging local authorities to act in a particular way when supermarkets are allowed to sell alcohol as a loss leader. People are pre-loaded-tanked up-before they go out on Friday and Saturday nights, and everything that follows is due to their ability to buy cheap alcohol at supermarkets.
Of course we welcome what the Government are doing. It is right for them to be tough in this area of policy, and it is right that the Opposition should be with them on that. I must say to them, however, that there
are ways in which we can move forward. We can reduce the cost of policing, and we can ensure that local communities can have a peaceful time at weekends.
Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): I agree with all that has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Alcohol is a major problem in this country, particularly among our young people. Fifty per cent. of crime is linked to alcohol abuse. It also affects public health. We discussed that when we debated the Health Bill, and I have raised it in the House on several occasions.
I am keen for the legislation to be beefed up, but what worried me during our proceedings on the Health Bill was the statement by the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron) that the proxy purchase legislation was not enforceable. We were trying to introduce a similar law relating to the proxy purchase of cigarettes, and when I raised the issue in Committee, and again on Report, the Minister responded by saying that it was not enforceable. However, legislation on proxy purchase is on the statute book today.
It is important for us not only to restrict young people's ability to purchase alcohol in licensed premises, but to ensure that no one who is of age can do so either as a friend or for profit. If the Minister cannot respond fully today, I ask him to think about the issue. It strikes me as ludicrous that we have proxy purchase legislation on the statute book when a Minister from another Department has said that such legislation is not enforceable. We are rightly beefing up this legislation today, but we ought to beef up the provisions that would prevent young people from gaining access to alcohol because someone who looks 18, or has proved himself to be 18, has proxy-purchased it for them.
Paul Holmes: The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, observed that it was good to see constructive engagement between Government and Opposition. Over the past year I have probably seen more give and take, with the Government listening to suggestions and adopting them, than I have seen in the case of most other Bills with which I have been involved during my eight years in the House. Inevitably, many of our proposals in Committee last February were turned down, but, as is so often the case, were then accepted in the other place. There has been more acceptance of Opposition points made today during what has been a constructive debate, despite the interventions of the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), who, unfortunately, is no longer present.
Lords amendment 25 will remove the provision that increases the maximum fine for drinking in a public place from £500 to £2,500. As a number of hon. Members have pointed out, and as I pointed out in Committee in February, that is fairly pointless. Given that the maximum £500 penalty has never been imposed, what is the point of increasing it by 500 per cent.? Making criminal policy by means of macho newspaper headlines is rather counter-productive. It was a welcome step forward that the Government accepted that and dropped the proposal.
Amendments 26 and 27 deal with under-16s found drinking in a public place. Initially, the legislation said that they could be dispersed. It is good that the Government
accept the amendments, which say that in such circumstances a police constable should not just disperse children under 16, but should look to take them to their residence or some other place of safety.
Mike Penning: I want to say something on behalf of those of us who have the honour and privilege of patrolling with the police, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights. I have been with them when they have patrolled certain areas in my constituency where orders have been made, and we have picked up children of this age and taken them home. In some cases, the parents were appalled and very worried for their child and thanked the police, but I hate to have to say that on many occasions the police were berated by the parents for bringing their children home. That is the issue we have to address. This legislation will not address the big problem, which is parenthood, not policing.
Paul Holmes: The hon. Gentleman's comments bring me on to the point that I was about to make. I recommend that the Minister and his colleagues also look to take more proactive action. Let me give the example of something I witnessed when on patrol in Chesterfield with Derbyshire police this summer. On one evening, I went out in the van that undertakes what the police there call the Be Safe programme. They adopted it as an experiment for the school summer holidays, but it was so successful that they have now extended it into the autumn and intend to make it more permanent.
We were called by some residents just before 9 o'clock at night. A group of young and obviously drunk teenagers was shouting and urinating in the street. Instead of just moving them on or taking them straight home, which is what the police would normally have done, because they were part of the Be Safe programme they took the teenagers to a Derbyshire county council youth services building, where youth workers and a police constable were in attendance. The youth workers then went through individually with each young teenager the reasons why they had been out drinking and why they deemed that to be an enjoyable way to spend an evening, and why they did not take advantage of all the alternative ways to spend their time.
Afterwards, instead of taking the teenagers home, which is the normal police practice, they called the parents in; they insisted the parents had to come and collect their child, or else they would, effectively, have ended up in the cells overnight. Given that this was a Friday night and many parents were themselves either drinking at home or had been out to the pub to mark the end of the working week, most of them had to book a taxi to take them to collect their children. All but one of them was very indignant, not at the police for disrupting their family life, but at their children-and far more so than if the police had simply taken them home. In fact, one boy said, "Why don't you just take me home like you normally do?"
The process that the families had to go through was far more of an inconvenience than the usual practice. The police found it so effective that they have turned it from a six-week experiment for the school holidays to, it is to be hoped, a permanent feature-they are certainly running it through the entire autumn and I witnessed it again recently on Hallowe'en when I was out with the police again.
Such measures are a good step, requiring the police not just to pour alcohol down a drain and move people on, but to take, and be involved in, much more proactive measures. We need to change the attitude of society and the attitude of families about what their children are doing when they are out on the streets drinking under age.
Amendments 29, 52 to 59 and 64 to 86 address the mandatory licensing conditions for alcohol. I have two points to make on that. I made one of them in Committee in February. The Government have taken the power to impose no more than nine mandatory licence conditions on pubs. I asked at that time, why nine, rather than five, 13, 20 or whatever the appropriate figure might be? I asked how they had arrived at the figure of nine. I did not get an answer then, but I hope that now, the best part of a year later, the Minister may have been provided with an answer by his civil servants.
I welcome amendment 29 in particular, which addresses the problem of councillors who represent a ward but who do not live in it taking part in the process as interested bodies, rather than just those in a ward who live near a pub, or, perhaps, a lap-dancing club-those were the specific examples we addressed when we discussed this matter in Committee earlier in the year. I gave a specific example from a London borough concerning a lap-dancing club-they are, of course, licensed premises. Local residents had lots of concerns and fears about the effect that the club was having on the neighbourhood, but they were scared and intimidated and would not stand up in public to raise their concerns. Their councillor was happy to speak about that, but was barred by the law from doing so because they lived just outside the boundary. It is good to see that the Government have accepted the argument we have been making and are incorporating it into the Bill in amendment 29.
Mr. Alan Campbell: By removing clause 27, I hope we are not sending out the message that the offence in question is not a serious matter. People should not assume that because we are not seeking to escalate the fine, this is not serious. The police have a range of powers and we work with them not only on training, but on revising existing guidance. The powers are there to be used, and we want to ensure that they work.
Hon. Members referred to prevention. They asked, why cannot we do more to prevent young people from getting into this situation in the first place? I hope the impression has not been created that not a lot is happening. We need only look at the work done as part of the youth crime action plan and the diversionary activities that the Government, through local authorities and other bodies, pay for, particularly for Friday and Saturday nights. In the more serious cases, there are family intervention projects as well. If children are regularly brought home and parents are indifferent to that, there is good cause to hold them responsible for what their children are doing.
On the ages of the young people in question, we should not forget that the police asked for the powers that we are introducing. Because they sometimes have to deal with groups of people of mixed ages, they
wanted to ensure that they had the powers to deal with all of them. Some situations can be particularly difficult for them, and they have to have discretion. The position we have arrived at is the correct one.
The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) mentioned proxy purchase. We do not agree that such a measure would not be enforceable, but addressing the problem can sometimes be disproportionately resource-intensive. The Bill does, however, make it harder to sell alcohol to young people and for them to drink in public, which is welcome.
Mr. Hanson: Members will, I hope, welcome the fact that the amendments proposed by the Government on gang injunctions are a result of having listened to the concerns expressed in debates in another place and of new issues that were raised there.
Lords amendments 30 to 33, 35 and 37 have been proposed to limit the duration of the injunctions to a maximum period of two years. They will work in conjunction with amendments 31, 32 and 37, which will introduce a mandatory annual review where an injunction lasts for more than one year. Lords amendment 36 deals with the introduction of a time limit and mandatory review. It ensures that where an application is made to vary an injunction, the courts have power to add a new prohibition or requirement or to extend the duration of an existing prohibition or requirement, subject to the overall time limit of two years.
Lords amendment 34 is a technical amendment. Lords amendment 38 requires the Secretary of State to consult the Lord Chief Justice, and any other persons he considers appropriate to consult, prior to issuing or revising guidance on gang injunctions.
Finally, Lords amendment 39 responds to concerns that these innovative provisions could be used against groups that the Government do not intend them to be used against. The proposed new clause would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to review the operation of the gang-injunction provisions and to publish a report on that review. The new clause would require the report to be published within three years of the commencement of the provisions, and be laid before Parliament. I hope that the amendments are welcome to the Opposition. They raised these issues in good faith in another place, and we have been pleased to be able to introduce the amendments. I hope that the House will accept them.
James Brokenshire: The Conservatives made it clear in Committee and on Report that we would support measures to deal with the serious problem of gang-related violence, which affects so many communities and young people up and down our country. In the past fortnight, the charity Catch22 published a survey of young people's experiences of crime and put this issue into context by suggesting that more than one in four of the young people that it had surveyed had been threatened with a weapon, such as a knife or a gun, and almost one in six had had a weapon used against them.
If that were an isolated survey, it might be more easy to cast doubt on it, or to criticise or discount it in some way, but it was published against a backdrop of other surveys. Action for Children reports that becoming a victim of crime, particularly violent crime, is a real fear for children and young people growing up in the UK today, and according to polling of young people conducted by MORI for the Youth Justice Board, in the past 12 months nearly a third of 11 to 16-year-olds in mainstream education in England and Wales carried a weapon, with more than half of all excluded pupils admitting to having carried a knife.
The desire is to ensure that young people approach adulthood full of enthusiasm for their future, with opportunities calling them from every direction. For too many young people in Britain today, such optimism is not there because of fears for their safety. Given that gang culture, gang activity and gang membership can make that situation much more serious, the provisions needed to be examined and considered appropriately.
Vulnerable young people-those with poor educational attainment, weak family structures, addiction, mental illness or unemployment-are being targeted for gang membership, because it gives them a perverse sense of security and of family. That is why it is important that measures are put in place to undermine the deliberate tactics that many gangs seek to use to weaken family ties and to draw individuals away from the traditional support structures. These gangs use acts of sickening violence, and imprisonment may even be a perverse part of a rite of passage in gang membership.
As hon. Members will know, the backdrop to these amendments is the case of Shafi and Ellis v. Birmingham city council, in which the Court of Appeal determined that injunctions under section 222 of the Local Government Act 1972 could not apply to the cases in which they were being sought. On the basis of what Birmingham city council said about the impact that the injunctions were having on dealing with gangs in its area and its fear that gang violence was increasing as a consequence of the loss of that specific measure, the proposals were introduced in the House.
The one slightly cautionary note that I should sound against that backdrop goes back to what the Court of Appeal said at the time of the judgment in that case. Paragraph 68 of the judgment of Sir Anthony Clarke, the then Master of the Rolls, and Lord Justice Rix states:
"However, we are confident that the courts have ample powers to deal with them"-
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