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In the context of the Bill and in a wider context, we must recognise that alcohol misuse is a cultural issue. There has been a welcome attempt to introduce, with the best of intentions, a café culture featuring the relaxed attitude that our southern European neighbours seem to adopt. That was an admirable aspiration on the part of the Government, but it should be set against our
northern European culture. We know of the history of great halls where people sat around drinking to excess, and when we travel across the water we see that some of our near neighbours have huge problems with alcohol misuse. There is no particular reason for me to pick on poor Norway, but despite its high alcohol prices, it has problems with alcohol misuse. The issue of prices was raised in Committee, but we need only travel the short distance to Norway to see that that approach will not work on its own. We must explore all manner of ways of addressing the cultural issues, which is what the Bill does.
I am sure that we have all seen posters in our communities describing the impact that alcohol misuse can have on individuals. Staffordshire police and Stoke-on-Trent city council have extremely good posters highlighting the ways in which it can affect people, not least the possibility of ending up in a police cell for the night-quite apart from what happens to the victims of alcohol-related crime.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) spoke of his experiences on the streets of London with members of the police and paramedics. Like, I suspect, many other Members, I too have been out with the police, and with what was the West Midlands ambulance service and is now the Staffordshire ambulance service. I have been to the constituency of my good and hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher).
Hanley is a popular night spot on Friday and Saturday nights and, indeed, at other times, with various pubs, clubs and entertainment venues in and around the city centre. I have observed the work done by paramedics there. In an extremely effective pilot exercise, a MASH-style tent was set up in a car park just outside the city centre. Rather than being taken to the accident and emergency department at University Hospital of North Staffordshire, people who had had too much to drink and had injured themselves-or, more worryingly, had had too much to drink and injured others-could be taken to the tent for treatment.
I was most impressed when I talked to the dedicated people who worked late shifts on Friday and Saturday nights, and saw the work that they did. I was interested to learn from them that things generally did not begin to hot up until 2 am at the earliest. It was at 3 am, they said, that problems really started to come to their attention. Until then, crews were dealing with other issues and getting themselves ready. As I saw for myself, as the night progresses, things go from fairly slow to very busy indeed.
On patrol around the city centre with the Staffordshire constabulary, I saw the problems caused by people coming out of nightclubs. The introduction of staggered times in other parts of the country has proved very effective. For a number of years, members of the police force who asked for it before the change in the legislation have been telling me how welcome it has been. That staggering-if the House will pardon the pun-is better than everyone leaving clubs at the same time.
As we travelled around, the police would point out certain clubs-I will not name names-and say, "This one is particularly well run; there are good door staff, and they make sure things are run properly," or, "This one is less well run; we know we'll be called out to it several times in the night, because there will be problems." As we went around, it became obvious that the police
knew their patch intimately. They knew exactly what to expect, particularly on a Friday and Saturday night, and which premises they would have to visit. As we have an excellent police service in Staffordshire-and north Staffordshire-its officers were pro active. They went out and talked to the door staff, and identified early on where there were going to be problems. Again, however, the police service knew that those problems were likely to escalate from about 3 am onwards-and that was, indeed, the case.
Let me now move from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central to my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent, South. I have been out with the response team there. Again, I travelled around with them in their cars and we were called to incident after incident. I want to pay tribute to all the officers, in particular those from Longton police station. It is one of the busiest police stations in the entire Staffordshire area, and its officers do a marvellous job. Having been out on duty with them, I can attest that the early hours of the morning is the period when the volume of calls goes through the roof, and they find that they are out responding to a stream of incidents. Many of them, especially after 3 am, were alcohol-related, as they had told me they would be.
I know we will come on to the issue of domestic violence later, but that is often fuelled by alcohol. Officers know that, come 3 am, they will be called to domestic violence incidents, and they will frequently be at the same addresses. They also know in advance that many of them will have arisen because alcohol has been consumed throughout the evening, which has resulted in things coming to a head early in the morning.
I have also been out with the Operation Sanction van as it tours around the constituency. It is an extremely good operation. It has been run over many months, going out and identifying hot spots where there is drinking-and especially under-age drinking-late into the night that is causing trouble, nuisance and a great deal of distress for constituents. That police operation was extremely good, and very well received by residents.
Turning to the experience of residents, I listened intently to the remarks of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) on local authorities' use of the raft of powers at their disposal, such as the designation of an alcohol disorder zone. Local authorities are sometimes hesitant to use these powers, and there is a whole host of reasons for that. It is not necessarily that things are complex. I have seen evidence that Stoke-on-Trent city council was hesitant in respect of using section 13-of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001-notices; it required the police to fill in reams of completely unnecessary paperwork. Fortunately, over time-and with intervention from the then elected mayor, Mark Meredith, working closely with the police and his own departments in the city council-that process was streamlined so that when section 13 notices were required, they could be brought in extremely quickly. The cause of such hesitancy among local authorities is not necessarily that things are bureaucratic or particularly burdensome. Often, they are simply hesitant to use a power until they have used it. That is human nature, of course; until any of us has actually done something for the first time, we are hesitant about doing it.
In terms of late-night drinking, late-night opening and alcohol disorder, there are some interesting proposals on charging organisations. There is an issue in respect of organisations-clubs, bars, pubs or hotels-that are located in areas that might be hit by the proposals, however. Some of them will be extremely well run and will take their responsibilities extremely seriously, but even though they are behaving in a highly commendable fashion and the cause of the problems lies elsewhere, they might be penalised by having to meet charges for policing and pay the local authority. The cause of the problems might be that other pubs or clubs are not so well run and are not taking their responsibilities seriously or, as the hon. Gentleman said, that people have pre-loaded-they have started their night out before they even go out. Some people go to the local off-licence or supermarket and buy in very strong beer and other alcoholic drinks, and then get half-cut before they even step out of the front door. We might stop off-licences and supermarkets selling some of the full-strength beers; perhaps we should allow only pubs to sell beverages of such a high alcohol content. That might have the knock-on effect of getting folks back into the pubs, instead of drinking at home or on street corners, as is, unfortunately, often the case. We also need to look at how to ensure that supermarkets and off-licences share the costs that the pubs, clubs and hotels may well end up having to pay.
In Committee, in response to proposals of mine, Ministers kindly responded on the issue of designated public protection orders. That ties in closely with the alcohol disorder zone issue. In responses in Committee on 23 February 2010, the Government set out where they felt the designated public protection orders, as they relate to alcohol, could meet the concerns of local residents. They might meet them in particular when tied to the use of petitions in respect of the duty on petitions under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Minister comes to respond, he will be able to give some clarification on the public using that petition duty under that Act.
I would also like to hear a little about the late-night alcohol licensing limits-closure between 3 and 6 am and the 2009 Act. In situations where a local authority has not sought pubs and clubs to close between 3 and 6 am in a certain area, will the public be allowed to use petitions to require them to seek closure? Another concern that has been raised is that the general public do not feel that their voice is heard, particularly in respect of alcohol misuse and the ability to have premises closed where they feel they are operating without any due respect for the local community in which they operate. I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give me the clarification I seek about designated public protection orders and alcohol misuse, and also about late-night licensing closure orders between 3 and 6 am so that the public feel they have a say on that.
Sadly, the issue of alcohol misuse and the cultural implications of our northern European nature will take a long time to address. We can do a lot through legislation, but a lot of it is also about effecting culture change and changing the idea that people do not have a good night unless they cannot remember it. We need to make sure we address these issues, and I welcome any proposals that add tools to the toolbox of local authorities and the police, to help in addressing this important issue.
Chris Huhne: I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello), who speaks a lot of good sense on this issue. Let me first deal with amendment 23. The Government's introduction of the new power for local authorities confirms that the Government have failed to get a grip on the culture of binge drinking. I agree with what he has been saying about the fact that doing so is complex, but it is key if we are to deal with the associated crime and disorder, as any of us who have been out on a Friday or Saturday night with our local police force will be able to testify. The new alcohol provisions in the Bill give local authorities the power to impose blanket bans on the sale of alcohol after 3 am, but to do so on the basis of a justification that such a ban is "necessary". The amendment proposed by the Conservatives would change the wording to "desirable", and the Liberal Democrats would have no problem with that. Although there are no longer statutory limits on this under the licensing laws, in theory local authorities-licensing authorities-can curtail hours of sale to prevent crime and disorder, for public safety reasons, to prevent public nuisance and to protect children from harm. This provision is a reinforcement of the powers available to local authorities. We can see that in certain circumstances it might be useful, and we therefore support it.
New clause 3 would, in effect, abolish alcohol disorder zones. It is clear that they were another example of the Government governing by press release without considering what local authorities really wanted or needed to tackle the problems that they face. The fact that no local authority has applied to create an ADZ tells us everything we need to know about the effectiveness of this particular legislation.
Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does it not surprise the hon. Gentleman that the Government never held any proper consultation with local authorities in order to discover whether this was a power that they wanted? Does not one usually ask people whether they want a power before one announces that the power is to be given to them?
Chris Huhne: The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that in a rational, well-ordered world where Ministers were doing things in the correct way one might well suppose that a consultation process would be a good start to make before the drafting of legislation. However, as he may well have heard me say before, we have had 67 criminal justice Bills and nine immigration Bills since 1997, and 3,400 new criminal offences have been created, and the way in which the Government operate on these matters is to use legislation as a glorified press release, rather than as something that will have a little longer shelf life. The ADZs are another example of that playing to the gallery, and as the Liberal Democrats are very much in favour of removing legislation that is completely unnecessary, we will support new clause 3.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell):
This has been an informative, if short, debate, in which there has been some agreement and some disagreement about whether these proposals deserve the support of the House. First, may I pay tribute to the work of and comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello), who spoke authoritatively this evening,
as he did in Committee, in a fair and balanced way? He demonstrated again-as if he needed to-why he is such an assiduous constituency Member of Parliament. He highlighted the problems in his area and pointed out the significance of alcohol in our culture, both negative and positive. He also highlighted the way in which MPs are able to involve themselves in these important matters for their constituents-I am sure that applies to most hon. Members in the Chamber this evening-and see at first hand the problems that prevail.
If the House will allow me, I will answer directly the two points that my hon. Friend made before I deal with the broader points raised by the hon. Members who lead for the Opposition parties in this area. My hon. Friend asked whether the public can influence decisions on late night orders. He may be aware that at the end of January we introduced the right of local councillors to act as interested parties, and nothing would prevent Members of Parliament from acting on behalf of residents in raising these matters.
My hon. Friend asked a specific question about petitions. I am able to confirm that where a petition is presented it could be used as the basis for a designated public place order and that local authorities are required to consider a petition under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. I hope that that gives him some reassurance.
I wish now to discuss the wider point. Let me first state that there is a degree of common view-if not unanimity-about the fact that alcohol does create problems in our local communities and that we need to tackle the problems robustly. We need to be tough, but we also need to recognise that no single measure that can be introduced will act as a silver bullet. We have to put into context the powers that have been introduced and how they have been used to date, because the reality is that the level of alcohol-related crime has fallen by a third since 1997. We are not complacent; we are determined to take action to reduce the level of alcohol-related crime and disorder further, particularly when it involves binge drinking and under-age drinking. Of course we want to minimise the violence, antisocial behaviour and health harms that come with the abuse of alcohol, but we also want a balanced approach that allows the law-abiding to go about their business and to enjoy alcohol safely and responsibly. We have introduced a host of measures, including ADZs, that have a role to play, but the reality is that 28 per cent. of the population perceive that alcohol-related disorder is either a fairly big or big problem in their area.
Chris Huhne: I very much agreed with the Minister's point about the importance of cutting alcohol-related violence. Could he tell the House what the Home Office is doing to ensure greater co-operation between accident and emergency departments and local police forces to give anonymised patient data allowing police forces to do hot-spot intensive policing, which, as we know from the experience in Cardiff and other cities, has cut woundings by 40 per cent? This is a key part of dealing with these alcohol-related problems. Given that just a year ago only one fifth of hospitals were co-operating, what progress has been made?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, because progress is being made. One of the issues that is being addressed right across the
country, particularly in crime and disorder partnerships and particularly where the Home Office and the police are working closely with local authorities and agencies, is not only the health risk that alcohol poses, but the way in which health data can be used to inform this process. This approach is playing an increasing part in many more local partnerships' problem solving: they are getting a better grip on what the problem is like in their area and how they measure it. People are realising that although enforcement action is important-that is why the police must always be on the front line on this issue-a number of agencies have a role to play. It is a sad fact that in tackling not only alcohol-related disorder but knife crime it is often the health service that sees things at first hand for the first time; they see the people who have been caught up in these things, both the victims of crime and its perpetrators. I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that what he describes is very much part of the work that is being done on tackling not only knife crime but a range of matters, including alcohol-fuelled violence and disorder.
That brings me to the issue of ADZs. New clause 3 proposes that sections 15 to 20 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 should be repealed. They give local authorities powers, in consultation with the police, to designate in their area an ADZ. To pay for additional policing and other enforcement activities they can impose charges on premises and clubs within the zone that sell or supply alcohol, as specified by the Secretary of State in regulations, and the regulations were introduced in June 2008.
I say to the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) -we have debated this point many times-that there are, as he knows, no alcohol disorder zones yet. He seeks through his amendment to remove the power to set up alcohol disorder zones because there are none yet. Despite that, they are an important power available to local authorities, and it would not be correct to remove that power.
Mr. Campbell: There have been discussions precisely on that point to ensure that some of the criticisms about bureaucracy made earlier in the debate do not apply. Let me be frank: as the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) said, local authorities are not seeking to stigmatise their area, and they are certainly not looking to add costs to the evening economy, particularly as many businesses are feeling the squeeze of the recession. However, it would still not be correct to accept the new clause and remove the power to create alcohol disorder zones.
Local authorities and enforcement agencies have a wide range of tools and powers available to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder, and it is up to them which they use. As I said, there is no single power than can be used to address the problem alone. Front-line agencies require a wide range of powers to tackle the problem. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the work of front-line staff and agencies in that regard, and I
support his comments. There are many good examples across the country of areas where problems associated with the night-time economy are well managed.
Because alcohol disorder zones are a last resort, and are to be used only when all other avenues of persuading licensed premises to adopt a more responsible approach have failed, I believe that they still have a role. In our discussions with local authorities about why they have not created alcohol disorder zones, they have said that it is precisely the existence of that last resort that has encouraged them to look again at the alternative powers available to them. Therefore, alcohol disorder zones do not have to be introduced in order to have an influence: because they involve cost, they focus people's minds on ensuring that they do everything that they can to tackle the problems in their area. In that regard, the fact that local authorities have not felt the need to use that power of last resort is testament to the good work that is being done in many areas.
Mr. Gummer: I wonder whether the Minister can give me a single other example in legislation in which a power is presented on the basis that it will never be used but is valuable because its role is to exist but never be used. I know of no other such case in government.
Mr. Campbell: I apologise. Clearly I have not explained to the right hon. Gentleman exactly what I am saying. I am not saying that that is the only purpose of alcohol disorder zones. If anyone said, "We intend to set up an alcohol disorder zone because we believe it's necessary to deal with the conditions in our area," we would applaud that. We are saying that not only does the power have a practical purpose-if a zone were introduced, it would raise additional revenue to pay for policing and other measures-but in the 18 months it has been available it has had an influence in many town and cities throughout the country. I do not discount for one minute the possibility that someone may come forward and say, "Having looked at and tried all the available powers, we want to set up an alcohol disorder zone." I cannot say that that will not happen, and the right hon. Gentleman does not say that either.
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