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Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I welcome the Bill, as I am sure the overwhelming majority of the British public will also. It is mainly about alcohol misuse and its links with crime and disorder. Regrettably, they affect many people in this country these days. It is on those topics that I wish to speak. The links are well documented. Prior to the publication of the Government's alcohol harm reduction strategy in 2004, the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit's research in 2003 estimated that
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alcohol-related harm costs about £20 billion a year, of which alcohol-related crime costs the UK £7.3 billion in policing, prevention services, processing offenders through the criminal justice system and, of course, the human costs incurred by the victims of crime.
Given that nearly half of violent crime is fuelled by alcohol and that more than half of the public perceive violent crime to be on the increase, the time is right for the Government to redouble their efforts to tackle this nation's problem with the drinking culture, and the crime and disorder that accompany it so often.
I particularly welcome the proposed introduction of alcohol disorder zones. They will enable local authorities to hold the drinks trade to account for the impact of their business on individuals and the community as a whole. Although I acknowledge that parts of the industry are concerned that responsible businesses may be punished for their neighbours' unscrupulous behaviour, the growth of a large number of licensed premises in some areas contributes to creating many intoxicated people, all of whom are slightly more rowdy and jubilant and more likely to react aggressively than they would be if sober. Antisocial behaviour is far more likely in these circumstances than in others, as I am sure we have all seen in our town centres of an evening.
The Bill gives licensees the opportunity to try to solve these problems by joint participation. I think that that is the right way forward initially. However, if this ideal basis fails, surely it is appropriate and necessary to give local authorities the powers to improve the situation for the benefit of the whole community. I firmly believe that, if we are not careful, there may be repeated attacks on them of the kind we had on ASBOs. Although some people strongly opposed them when they first came in, and have continued to oppose them in some instances, they have worked well in the main, and they have been welcomed in many communities, particularly those that have suffered violence and disorder.
I am sorry about the concern of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, for whom I have a particular affection. I have a close connection with him in that he confirmed me in my 40s, in Battersea and Wandsworth. Had he still been there, I would have invited him to join me in some of the canvassing and other work that I do in that area and to see how ASBOs have been welcomed by people who continue to have difficulties, particularly with drunken people in the streets and in their neighbourhoods. I believe that the kind of people who have those problems will welcome alcohol disorder zones. They are an improvement on focusing simply on individual premises, as happens at present. There will also need to be a continuing and broader look at the role of the drinks trade and how it can play an even bigger part in changing the drinking culture in this country. Perhaps the Minister could say what is happening in this respect following the introduction of the alcohol harm-reduction strategy. For example, has any progress been made with the drinks trade on labelling, which it could act on without a great deal of effort on its part, and certainly at minimum cost? Do the
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Government plan to review their alcohol harm-reduction strategy and, if so, when are we likely to see it?
Again, I welcome the Bill's focus on individuals' responsibility for their own unacceptable behaviour when drunk. A firm stance on this issue is crucial, and drinking banning orders and the recent Home Office campaign to crack down on drunk and disorderly conduct will go some way towards improving the situation. However, simply focusing on punishing those who are drunk and disorderly is not enough; making a commitment to supporting people to change their relationship with alcohol is equally, if not more, important. That is where I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. It is estimated that 1.1 million people in England are dependent on alcohol, and there is little point in banning them from entering premises where they can purchase their drug of choice without offering them support to try to stop drinking. It is of great concern to all of us that, of the 70,000-plus prisoners currently in gaol in the UK, it is estimated that more than 40,000 are hazardous alcohol users, almost half of whom have severe alcohol problems. I hope that we can all agree that punishing people for behaving in a certain way, without trying to help them stop behaving in that way, cannot be a long-term solution.
However, there are solutions, as Alcohol Concern has advised your Lordships recently in a briefing. Dudley borough arrest referral scheme is one of those solutions. It is a partnership between the police and their local alcohol treatment service. When people are arrested for alcohol-related offences, their custody officers can refer them to Aquarius, the local treatment service. They attend two one-hour sessions, where their use of alcohol is assessed. They are supported in action planning to prevent or reduce the likelihood of reoffending due to alcohol. That is a good, joined-up approach, a proactive approach, and a proven successful approach.
The Bill's firm stance on tackling alcohol-related crime is welcome. But the provision of support and treatment is still not on the scale that we are looking for, although I was pleased to hear that there will be amendments in Committee following the debate in the other place. To that end, I will table an amendment in Committee about arrest referral schemes. I will urge the Government to consider adopting more positive steps to help people to change their relationship with alcohol, which will be along the lines I have just described.
On enforcement, the Bill contains many strong new measures, but I must voice my concerns about whether those measures will be put into practice on the ground. As mentioned, legal measures are already available to tackle alcohol misuse, the key example being that it is illegal to sell alcohol to children and to people who are already drunk. But how widely are those laws enforced? In 2003, there were just 616 prosecutions for selling alcohol to children, and a mere eight for selling alcohol to people who were drunk. I know that greater efforts have been made recently, but it is important that the Bill does not become just more legislation to
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be underenforced or not enforced at all. For that reason, I will table an additional amendment to allow this House to discuss mechanisms for monitoring the enforcement of this Bill's measures to reduce sales of alcohol to under-age drinkers and to assess their impact annually.
I welcome the Bill and the fact that the Government have made the link between alcohol and crime and are well and truly acting on it. However, with 23,000 incidents of alcohol-related violence every week, and with an average of 13 under-18 year-olds admitted to hospital each day as a result of having drunk too much, we need to get the strategy absolutely right. We have to be sure that these measures will be enforced and that genuine help will be offered to people who want and are willing to change how they drink. I look forward to Committee and to discussing these issues in greater detail.
The Earl of Shrewsbury: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill. The matters that I wish to address concern Part 2, which deals with firearms, imitation weapons and other related issues. I thank the Minister for describing how she is prepared to make specific to the Bill the date of 1870 for antique weapons. We are most grateful. I declare my interest as a former chairman of the Firearms Consultative Committee, the current chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council and the honorary president of the Gun Trade Association. The latter two bodies have an interest in this Bill.
The major sports shooting associations in the UK work together under the aegis of the British Shooting Sports Council. The council's aims and objectives are to promote and safeguard the lawful ownership and use of firearms and air weapons for sporting and recreational purposes in the United Kingdom among all sections of the community. The Gun Trade Association is exactly that: it represents the interests of its members who trade in firearms, both activated and deactivated, in air weapons, ammunition and a wide range of items associated with shooting sports. It promotes the export of many millions of pounds' worth of such goods from this country, is actively supported by UK Trade and Investment and, from the world-famous London best quality shotguns to the smallest of air weapons, it makes a considerable contribution to this country's economy by employing thousands of people, many of them very fine craftsmen and women.
I am delighted to say that Great Britain is truly world class in the manufacture and supply of shooting equipment, and in the sporting field the British shooting team has recently enjoyed considerable success at the Commonwealth Games in Australia. I believe that your Lordships would wish to congratulate the team on its resounding achievements, in particular Mick Gault, who has really done British shooting proud. Even before his standard pistol gold medal five days ago, Mr Gault had become the most successful English Commonwealth Games competitor
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everand he is a shooter. It would be nice to think that the Prime Minister, while visiting various British teams in Melbourne, would also pay a visit to our shooting team and especially to Mr Gault, but that is probably unlikely.
Notwithstanding the achievements of our sportsmen and women in the shooting field, despite the world-renowned exports of our gun trade, and despite our world-class shooting grounds, anyone who legally enjoys the ownership and use of guns is classed in the main by the media and politicians as unsavoury, to say the leastthe phrase "pariah of society" comes to mind. Yet it is widely accepted and proven that the vast amount of crime involving firearms is committed using illegally held weapons. This fact was acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in winding up the debate initiated recently by my noble friend Lord Marlesford on a national firearms registeror rather the lack of such a register, but we will not go into that now. However, the Government appear to land the blame on the doorstep of the legal enthusiast, at whom the resulting legislative action is aimed. It is a widely held view that the possession and use of illegally held firearms has ballooned in recent years, despite the ban on handguns. I am in complete agreement with the comments just made by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll.
We in this country have some of the toughest gun laws in the world. Although we in the British Shooting Sports Council welcome any moves to enhance the safety of the public, such matters should be addressed only after full consultation with those who will be affected by such legislation. The Government's own advisory body, the Firearms Consultative Committee, was stood down in 2004 and its replacement is yet to be established. The FCC proved an invaluable mechanism for consultation with all interested parties. My noble friend Lord Kimball and I know that only too well because we are both former chairmen of the committee.
"specific proposals will be made in the light of comments received in response to this consultation . . . the consultation paper is a first step and a comprehensive review of firearms legislation . . . Next steps will be proposed in the light of comments received".
I understand that the many comprehensive responses to the consultation paper have yet to be analysed by the Home Office. There has been no feedback to consultees and no further progress in the process for consultation laid down by the Cabinet Office.
Part 2 of the Bill was brought forward within weeks of the new Government taking office and with absolutely no adequate prior consultation. Two new clauses, Clauses 26 and 27, which will have a serious effect on the sale of air guns and the livelihood of those who sell them, were introduced in the other place at the Committee stage with no prior consultation, as previously indicated, with any of the bodies that would be affected.
While wishing fervently to protect and enhance the safety of the public, the Government should not lose sight of the interests of the many who derive their livelihood from the gun trade and the hundreds of thousands of persons who legally and responsibly participate in and enjoy the various sporting shooting disciplines. I make a plea to the noble Baroness to do whatever she can to protect those interests during this Bill's progress through your Lordships' House.
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