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However, I turn rapidly to magistrates and the powers that they could have to impose non-custodial sentences which involve the use, for example, of day centres, to which I have already referred, and alcohol treatment centres. There is the important aspect of magistrates' responsibility for licensing. Licences to sell alcohol are cheap. Perhaps they could be made more expensive. Some of the controls, particularly on selling alcohol to young people, could perhaps be fiercer than they are.
We have not referred much to forms of drugs other than alcohol, and the two must be considered together. My honourable friend George Howarth, who is a member of the Front Bench Home Affairs team in the other place, has been doing a great deal of work recently
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Bouncers, my Lords, as my noble friend reminds me. The training of such people in understanding alcohol and drug abuse is enormously important. It could make a significant contribution to reducing alcohol-induced crime.
The responsibilities of the police are self-evident. I do not need to expand on that point. There is a great deal still to be learnt by the police about how to deal with drunks at police stations. There are police stations, certainly in my part of London, where the practice is severely below that which is desired.
Finally, I want to refer to what can be done in prisons to deal with alcohol rehabilitation. I have been reading with interest about the work of the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust in Her Majesty's Prisons at Downview and Coldingley, and, as of this year, also in Pentonville. It has been providing counselling, in the first instance by outside counsellors in those prisons, and consistent programmes to wean prisoners off alcohol abuse. It has now been able to build up a group of peer counsellors--nothing to do with the House of Lords, but fellow prisoners--who work effectively, as I understand it. I pay tribute to that work and I hope that it will be extended. Perhaps the Minister can say something about what more could be done.
There will never be a solution to the problem. It is not a problem, it is a whole series of problems. As the noble Viscount said in his introduction, alcohol is the drug of choice for the western world, but if we involve all the agencies about which I have been talking we can chip away at the problem and perhaps make progress.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, I, too, join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, on raising an issue which is rightly foremost in the current debate about the improper use of alcohol. But before responding to the many and learned points which have been made I must say that at the Home Office we are often asked what are the causes of crime and what is being done to tackle crime and disorder. Alcohol misuse is often mentioned as a cause of criminality. Noble Lords will know that, quite simply, there is no single cause of crime. The reasons why people become offenders are complex and wide ranging. A variety of factors may encourage them towards or away from criminality. For some, alcohol will undoubtedly be an influential factor but it, too, may be part of a more complex picture.
The consumption of alcohol, in sensible quantities and in appropriate circumstances, provides a great many people with a great deal of enjoyment. I suspect that at this moment many of our colleagues are indulging innocently in that pastime.
Clearly it is an important part in our social and cultural life. Equally, drinking the wrong amount or at the wrong time can lead to immeasurable harm--harm in health terms, as the noble Viscount said. And on those occasions where it reduces concentration and inhibition it can, and regrettably does, lead to accidents and anti-social behaviour.
The Government do not wish to discourage the sensible consumption of alcohol but are committed to reducing alcohol-related harm. Government policy is that schools, colleges and the Youth Service should encourage young people in developing responsible attitudes towards alcohol consumption. Young people need to learn to make sensible choices about whether, when and how much to drink and how to resist persuasion and pressure. That often happens in the context of more general health education programmes which emphasise the benefits of healthy living.
It is essential that we continue to get that message across, as heavy drinking often precedes violent and sexual crimes and disorderly behaviour, and many persistent offenders have a lifestyle which includes heavy drinking. Crime prevention efforts are therefore targeted on disorder and violence associated with licensed premises, and measures to encourage sensible drinking are seen as contributing to crime prevention generally. We know, for example, that almost half the incidents of disorderly behaviour dealt with by the police occur shortly after the end of permitted hours for licensed premises and are more likely to occur on Friday or Saturday nights and to involve young men. That said, it is important to remember that most drinking is not associated with crime.
A great deal of progress has been made: alcohol related road traffic accidents are decreasing, attitudes have changed, as has been recognised by the debate, and drink drivers are increasingly being seen and treated as a criminal menace.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway mentioned the courts. There is no question about the important role that the courts have to play in dealing with alcohol-related crimes. In that regard, the Government's responsibility is to ensure that the courts have sufficient powers to deal adequately with the worst offences. Severe maximum penalties are available, particularly for offences of violence, and we have not hesitated to increase them where necessary; for example, the Criminal Justice Act 1993 doubled to 10 years' imprisonment the maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink.
Parliament has provided a sentencing framework, as my noble friend knows, which enables the courts to impose appropriate penalties on serious or persistent offenders. We believe that it is now up to the courts to make full use of those powers. I look forward with interest to the Law Commission's proposals on this matter.
Alcohol-related crime is being tackled on a broad front by a great many agencies. Examples of recent action to reduce alcohol related disorder include the establishment of over 880 Pub Watch schemes right across England and Wales. As your Lordships will know, Pub Watch involves licensees working in co-operation with one another and the police and is an excellent example of the partnership approach to crime prevention. It can help licensees to deter potential trouble-makers and prevent the escalation of trouble.
Noble Lords will be familiar with the Safer Cities Programme which tackles crime in the inner cities through proactive, multi-agency projects in areas with high crime rates. Since it was launched in 1988 it has funded more than 40 schemes aimed at tackling alcohol-related crimes.
Many local authorities have already undertaken or participated in crime prevention or community safety partnerships which focus on alcohol-related problems. Those local partnerships aim to identify the scale of alcohol-related crime and deal with it, principally by persuading licensees and, where necessary, companies or brewers to improve the standard of supervision and management of their premises.
Many prisoners have a history of alcohol misuse and need help in tackling this problem. Programmes are run in most prisons and prisoners are encouraged to seek treatment. The programmes include education about the effects of alcohol and training in self-control techniques. Like the Probation Service, the Prison Service works closely with voluntary and other agencies in preparing prisoners for release and supporting them afterwards.
The noble Viscount referred to drinking and driving. As he knows, it is a serious and avoidable problem. The Government's message is aimed at the general public, not only at young people, and it is simply, "Don't drink and drive". From my involvement in observing young people I can say that they are more responsible. It is common nowadays for young people going out in a group to ask, "Who has elected not to drink?", in order that they can be driven home safely. That is extremely encouraging. Our policy is to try to change people's attitudes and we believe that we are making progress in deterring people from drinking and driving. In 1979 the proportion claiming never to drive and drink or to drink over the limit was 50 per cent. By 1990, it had risen to 79 per cent. We believe that progress is being made.
Much was said about encouraging local authorities to do more in a co-ordinated way. That activity is very lively at local authority level. Much is going on and the partnership approach to the matter is working and is the key. Perhaps I may refer to a partnership approach which goes back to Pub Watch. It is a multi-agency project involving brewers, licensees, the local authorities, the police and magistrates. The main objective of a scheme in Derby is to prevent or reduce drink-related disorder. A door-staff registration scheme
Much was made of what more we can do at national level. A Cabinet sub-committee on health strategy is co-ordinating policies to deal with alcohol misuse and to ensure that measures to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder are co-ordinated right across government departments.
The Prison Service was mentioned specifically. It recognises that the age and profile of clients presenting to community drug and alcohol services are no longer widely different and both groups have similar problems. Again, that point was made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. Such people have problems with dependence and socio-economic factors and prisoners present with poly-substance misuse problems. For those reasons the Prison Service adopted a combined approach for the care, support and treatment of prisoners with alcohol and other substance misuse. In addition, the Prison Service health advisory committee, under the chairmanship of the former chief medical officer, Sir Donald Acheson, is now preparing a report on alcohol in prisons. Its recommendations will inform the development of future alcohol specific policy.
In schools in England and Wales education about alcohol misuse is a statutory requirement as part of the programmes of study covering aspects of drug education in the National Curriculum Science Order. Pupils aged seven to 11 are taught that alcohol can have harmful effects and effects on personal lifestyles. From age 11 to 16 pupils broaden and deepen their study of alcohol misuse by learning about the effects of alcohol on health and body functions, a point specifically made by the noble Viscount.
In May last year the Department for Education and Employment issued to all schools detailed guidance on teaching about drugs and dealing with drug-related incidents on school premises. The advice applies to all substances whose use or misuse may have harmful effects on the body, including alcohol. In addition, the advice contains a specific chapter on alcohol.
Much was made of the issue of by-laws and I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. Local authorities can make by-laws under which it is an offence to drink intoxicating liquor in designated public places. I am happy to say that much is being made of that facility by local authorities. As regards proof of age, there is some read across to identity cards. No doubt we shall have much discussion about that aspect of identity cards when we debate the matter at a later date.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made an important point about public transport. We fully acknowledge the importance of making public transport safe for everyone. We have been involved in a number of successful initiatives to improve transport security. I would be happy to write to the noble Lord to inform him of some of those initiatives.
We acknowledge the importance of door supervisors, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. There have been problems with violence by door supervisors in certain parts of the country. The police have reported that where this is the case, local registration schemes based on the attachment of conditions such as registration to public entertainment licences have proved effective in reducing incidents. The extent of the problem varies from district to district, with some areas experiencing little or no difficulties. However, it can be and should be a matter for local authorities to address.
We have had a wide-ranging debate, albeit a short one, which has been much informed by the recent report of the All-Party Group on Alcohol Misuse. Yes, crime is a most pressing social problem in this country today, but I do not accept that one of the most obvious social problems--that is, alcohol misuse--has been ignored. The Government are concerned to reduce crime and disorder associated with alcohol misuse and they welcome the many initiatives designed to encourage sensible drinking. In examining alcohol misuse, it is important that excuses are not sought for those who engage in crime. It is individuals who choose to commit crimes. Help is available to those requiring treatment for alcohol dependence. Other approaches have to be pursued too. The recent revised sensible drinking levels offer soundly based and credible advice on which people can base their own choices.
It has been said many times before that teamwork is important. In order to be really effective, action has to be taken at the local level where the problems of alcohol misuse actually occur. We will continue to encourage local agencies, statutory, voluntary and commercial, to work together in all parts of the country to promote the sensible drinking message, to discourage alcohol misuse and to provide help for people who have alcohol-related problems. Whatever noble Lords' nightcap, I wish them a safe journey home.
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