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Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, no one would dispute that the purpose of the Bill is praiseworthy. I am sure that any measures that will reduce violent crime, so long as they are necessary and proportionate, will receive the support of the whole House. It is in that spirit of general support that, as my noble friend Lady Anelay said, we on the opposition Benches will approach the Bill.

However, when one ventures beyond the title of the Bill, it becomes evident that, in fact, the Bill is relatively modest. I cannot help but feel that although it addresses some of the symptoms of the disease of violent crime, it does not really address the causes of it. Trying to legislate out of the problem of the rise in violent crime across our towns and cities is not necessarily the panacea that the Government might have us believe is needed.

The progress of the Bill in another place drew attention to the redundancy of some of the measures proposed. The primary answer to the problem of the wave of alcohol-related disorder that is affecting our towns and cities is enforcement of existing law on the ground, not reduplicating it in different guises in further legislation—a theme which has run through the whole of this debate.
 
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The police need the right resources and manpower, not necessarily more schemes and the resultant paperwork. Indeed, the reliance of this Government on creating more legislation rather than using the existing law effectively has been, as I say, a recurrent theme. I need only mention the recent passage of the Terrorism Bill, where the Government expended large amounts of effort in asserting that we needed new offences to catch those who glorify terrorism. I refer to the example of the Danish embassy. I must be careful because that is sub judice, but the problem there was not the existing legislation, which was quite adequate, particularly with regard to incitement to murder; the problem was how the situation was dealt with by the police.

My noble friend Lady Anelay highlighted those areas where we will be able to support the Government. Their proposals for drink banning orders will give the courts more varied, if not necessarily greater, powers to ban from pubs and other establishments those individuals who drink irresponsibly and cause trouble. That was well covered by the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Brooke, and was summarised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.

The alcohol disorder zone proposals have some merit, but the Government must make sure that this House has sufficient regard to the detail. We look forward to seeing the draft regulations and guidelines. As always in such matters, the devil is in the detail. We owe it to the interested parties affected by the legislation, primarily landlords and those in the off-licence trade, to scrutinise the proposals carefully. The Government should not be let off the hook by trying to leave everything to regulations, as they are so fond of doing. However, I welcome the Minister's assurance that at least some of those regulations will be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses.

The interests of small businesses must be borne in mind when the question of imposition of charges is debated in Committee. The Government will be put to proof over the fairness of any arbitrary or blanket imposition of charges to ensure that they are neither anomalous nor plainly inequitable. The noble Lord, Lord Graham, who is not in his place, was very interesting on that point. I welcome the assurance from the Minister that ADZs will be used only as a measure of last resort.

We welcome many of the measures in Part 2. My noble friend Lady Anelay has already indicated our support for the new offence of using someone to mind a weapon. The provisions concerning the sale of air weapons must attract greater controversy, as will the provisions concerning realistic imitation weapons. That has been well covered. I do not share the confidence of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, that an assailant armed with a real weapon when firing at me will miss. My noble friend Lady Anelay mentioned the sport of airsoft. I reiterate what she said: I hope that the Government will listen to our concerns about the effect that the Bill will have on that perfectly legitimate activity.
 
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My noble friend has also mentioned the provisions of the Bill that increase the age at which knives can be legally purchased. That leads me back to the point that I raised earlier about the effectiveness of legislation. The Bill makes a great deal of making it harder to purchase potentially offensive weapons, but the effect that that will have on preventing crime is likely to be minimal. Much of the Bill is targeted towards limiting the ability to buy potentially dangerous weapons, be they air rifles, replicas or knives. As we know, much gun crime is committed with illegally held weapons and weapons smuggled in from abroad. We should be under no illusion that the Bill offers a quick-fix solution to these problems.

My noble friend Lady Anelay has set a fine example for all in her assurance that we on these Benches will not try to amend Part 3. Nevertheless, my noble friend Lord Glentoran and the noble Lords, Lord Pendry and Lord Addington, have raised the issue of stewards at sport events falling under the same statutory regulation as doorkeepers, otherwise known as bouncers. My noble friend's proposals are sensible, and I hope that the Government will give them due consideration.

My noble friend Lady Anelay also drew attention to some new proposals that we intend to introduce when the Bill reaches Committee. They relate to the relatively recent menace of happy slapping and to the issue of Olympic pistol training. I hope that the Government will consider the proposals in the same spirit in which they are proposed: in the first case, a constructive and sincere effort to convict and punish appropriately those who take part in that sickening type of behaviour; in the second case, a sincere effort to help those who have been unnecessarily prevented from training in a perfectly legitimate sport. Those subjects were raised by my noble friends Lord Glentoran and Lord Shrewsbury.

The gun legislation following Dunblane understandably contained some elements of knee-jerk reaction. It is therefore all the more important that, in the calmer circumstances in which this Bill is considered, a proper consultation should take place when further regulation, particularly with regard to air guns, is considered. My noble friend also made that point.

This has been a most constructive debate throughout, and I shall listen with great interest to the Minister.

8.15 pm

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I endorse straightaway what the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said about the constructive tone of the debate. We have assent from all Benches that these are issues with which we must grapple. I very much accept the pithy and telling comments made by the noble Viscount that the devil is often in the detail. We need to be proportionate and ensure that we do only that which is necessary. I respectfully agree with him on that. I commend, welcome and celebrate the
 
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comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in relation to her restraint on Part 3. She is an exemplar I ask others to follow.

I say, too, on a serious note that we do not see the Bill as a panacea to all ills. It is not, but it is a valiant and appropriate contribution to the tool kit that we think we need as a community to respond to difficult and pressing problems with which we are jointly faced. The tasks that the Bill will address are important.

We very much take on board the comments made by the right reverend Prelate on the need to ensure that the offences that we have are necessary. I endorse the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, about the drink banning orders. They do not contain a provision regarding imprisonment, but they contain an appropriate community intervention in relation to responding to a difficult problem—and with support.

The Bill must be seen alongside all the other measures that we are taking on health and education to try to change the culture to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, referred. I agree that there is a need to address the underlying problem of alcohol misuse. That is why we are introducing new clauses to enable individuals to take a course to address their alcohol misuse and behaviour.

I very much endorse what was said by my noble friend Lord Brooke, who made some powerful points not only in support of the Bill, but in directing our minds and attention to the work that is being done more broadly to support the reduction of abuse of alcohol. I assure him that the Government and the Department of Health are convening a group with industry representatives specifically to consider labelling and the sensible-drinking message. The undertaking given in the Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy is to review the strategy in 2007.

Of course, the Government are continually assessing the impact of new developments and will respond accordingly. They are involved in alcohol referral schemes in a number of areas, and the Home Office, through the conditional caution pilots and the custody referral schemes for drink and capacity, is dealing with that too. The Department of Health and the screening and brief intervention pilots are seeking to make a contribution.

The Minister with responsibility for alcohol matters in the Home Office is my honourable friend Paul Goggins. He met representatives of the Aquarius scheme in Dudley and has asked officials to explore alcohol referral schemes in detail. In saying that, I hope that I can reassure noble Lords that we are taking these issues absolutely seriously. I know that that is certain to be a satisfaction to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and others who have raised them this evening.

I could excite your Lordships by giving a long catalogue of further things that we are doing in that regard, but perhaps we can wait until we come to Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and others sought to indicate that we are not enforcing the current law, but we are doing so. The figures are
 
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not going down. If one looks at the figures for the number of defendants proceeded against in the magistrates' court and found guilty, and sentenced at all courts for offences in England and Wales, the figures for enforcement of drunk and disorderly behaviour have gone up, not down. We can track the figures from 1993 to 2003. I shall give the headline figure. In 1993 it was 20,578; in 2003 it was 31,343. We know that prosecution is not the only answer; education, intervention and the help and support programmes are also of critical importance.

The Government's commitment is evidenced in this Bill. It is clear that we have already taken many steps to enhance our performance and that has been beneficial. I have touched on the subject of the behaviour orders, and from what noble Lords across the House have said about them it is clear that we all think they will be beneficial and supportive, particularly if we rely on the additional support that I have indicated we will bring forward in future.

It is right that we consider alcohol disorder zones. I very much welcome the support from right round the House in that respect, but there is a huge amount of detail. That detail was questioned in the other place and we have to consider it here. I can assure noble Lords that we are giving it the most anxious and acute consideration.

The issues raised by noble Lords are valid and we want to be able to make an appropriate response. I hope that I have reassured the House that we do not see alcohol disorder zones as the first port of call but very much as the last after the action plans and using the available licensing provisions. But they may be a useful tool. However, we will return to those many complex and detailed issues in Committee. I hope that I will be able to better satisfy my noble friend Lord Graham, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, the noble Baroness, the noble Viscount and others who raised those matters. They are proper issues and we will have to deal with them in detail.

As I have already indicated, we will also be following the recommendations on the affirmative resolution. Therefore, we will have another opportunity, even after the passage of this Bill, to ensure that we get it right—a point echoed by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay.

With regard to alcohol disorder zones, I hope that I can also reassure my noble friend Lord Graham that the size of the area that might be designated is of acute concern to us. We do not think that it would be appropriate for the whole of a local authority's area to be so designated without very powerful information to justify it. The ADZs will be very tightly drawn around specific areas—perhaps a very few streets—which is why we have defined them as I have just indicated.

We consulted the industry on ADZs. Proposals for them were included in our consultation paper, Drinking Responsibly: The Government's Proposals, published in January 2005, and Ministers and officials met the industry in the summer and autumn of 2005 to discuss these matters. We will continue to consult the
 
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industry on the orders, including the guidance, as the Bill requires us to do. Noble Lords will also see that the Bill provides for a 28-day consultation period in areas where ADZs are proposed. I know that that consultation concerns the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, acutely.

The Licensing Act—a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones—strengthens the powers available to local partners to take tough action against irresponsible operators. We hope that the ADZs will build on that strong foundation. We will continue to look at how we can better support responsible drinking. The responsible drinking consultation paper said that the link between sale and consumption and a particular premise and disorder may be tenuous. That is not the same as saying that the link between alcohol and disorder is tenuous, but we can address that at a later stage.

I now turn to the issues relating to guns. I found the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, interesting, but I rather agree with the noble Viscount that his interpretation was somewhat alarming. We think it sensible to restrict access to dangerous weapons used in violent crime but, as I said earlier, there is much to be done in addressing the gun culture. Last year, the £2 million from recycled criminal assets was used on anti-gun projects. The Connected Fund was launched in 2004 and it has given support to more than 200 community groups working to tackle gun crime and related matters. That is an issue on which we have to work quite hard.

I know that the matter of private museums has excited the attention of the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I am pleased to be able to give a bit of pleasure right at the beginning, so that we may have a slightly happier time than otherwise. We have in Clause 33 already provided defences where the imitation firearm is made available for the purposes of a museum or gallery. We accept that this may have been drawn a little too tightly, in that it confines the defence to museums that do not distribute any profit that they make. We will therefore extend this defence in Committee, so that certain private museums—which are open to the public as bona fide tourist attractions—can acquire new exhibits. I hope that your Lordships will think that a sensible and appropriate move.

A number of noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, and, again, the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay—raised the issue of pistol sports. I join the noble Earl in celebrating the fantastic shooting results that we have had at the Commonwealth Games. That may indicate that the things that we have done have not inhibited our success, but perhaps that is for another day.

Pistol shooting events will certainly be able to go ahead in 2012 without changes to legislation. We have already said that we will put in place the same arrangements that worked so well for the Manchester Commonwealth Games, involving use of the Home
 
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Secretary's powers under Section 5 of the Firearms Act to authorise competitors and officials to possess prohibited handguns for the duration of the games and for the special warm-up events. We will discuss with colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport what arrangements should be made to allow squads to practise in the United Kingdom in advance of the games. I hope that that, too, has given satisfaction to noble Lords opposite.

The noble Baroness raised the issue of airsoft rifles. It has been suggested that we have cast our net a little too wide and that the proposed ban on the manufacture, import and sale of realistic imitation firearms will bear down too hard on people who engage in airsoft activities. While we accept that realism is an important aspect of skirmishing, we can see no good reason why non-realistic guns cannot be used for these activities. The Bill makes provision for size, shape and colour to be taken into account in determining whether an imitation firearm is distinguishable from a real firearm, and airsofters can take advantage of these provisions. We will be looking at this area together, and I assure noble Lords opposite that the Government are trying to be constructive in addressing this issue.

Noble Lords will know that we received a large response to the consultation on firearms—around 4,500 submissions. They have all been read and analysed, and we are considering how to proceed. A summary of the responses will be published in due course. We have a duty to act immediately when it becomes apparent that steps are needed to protect public safety; in particular, the increasing use of imitation firearms in crime means that we need to place restrictions on their general availability. I am glad to welcome the comments made in support of that right around the House. I reiterate my thanks for the constructive approach on that.

My noble friend Lord Pendry made interesting and comprehensive comments on ticket touting. I commend him for his unstinting work in this area over a number of years. The provisions in the Bill on ticket touting extend the existing legislation to cover sales over the internet. Ticket touting for football matches has public order consequences, as he has indicated. Unauthorised sales undermine crowd segregation, which is why we are using public order legislation to address touting in football. Similar problems in relation to the potential for disorder do not apply to other sports in the same way. We will, of course, be keeping this issue under review.

I took to heart the concerted three-Bench, three-pronged approach from the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lord Pendry regarding the application of the licensing provisions in the Private Security Industry Act 2001 to security guards in the sports and events sector. The Bill presents an opportunity to seek views from all concerned. We have today published a consultation document on the application of the licensing provisions and I hope that it will give us an opportunity to look at this issue and get it right. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and others
 
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who think that we have applied this law by some slip that it is not, as is claimed, an accident that the sports sector was included in the Bill's provisions. The security industry is broad, but we are keen to consult further to ensure that we get it right, that it catches those who should be caught and that another way can be found for those for whom another way should be found.

The noble Baroness touched on the issue of knives. As she rightly said, there is already a range of legislation to tackle the problem of knife crime. It is an offence to carry a knife in a public place without good reason or lawful authority, with the exception of a small, folding pocket-knife. Those found guilty face a penalty of up to two years' imprisonment. The possession of an offensive weapon without lawful authority or reasonable excuse carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison. We are tackling knife crime in a variety of ways. They include a knife amnesty to which I referred earlier that will run in England and Wales from 24 May to 30 June. The provisions in the Bill particularly focus on problems associated with young people and knives. That is why we are raising the age at which a knife can be purchased to 18 and why we are introducing a power for staff in schools and colleges to search pupils and students for weapons. The Government are committed to tackling violent crime involving knives and offensive weapons and we believe that these measures will make a valuable contribution.

Of course I hear it said that we allow people to get married at 16 but we will not let them buy knives. Well, some people think that it is fairly dangerous to get married at 16. However, it is lawful and has many benefits in terms of stability, security and warmth, among others. Buying knives that are not going to be used for normal proposes is a different matter. We must look at the issue. We have had a problem and it has been highlighted by some tragic consequences. Therefore, we think it necessary to look at the issue in a proportionate, reasonable and appropriate way. I can assure the House that that is how we intend to deal with it.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, asked about searching pupils for weapons and whether two teachers would be necessary. The Bill provides that searches are carried out only in the presence of another person aged 18 or over and by an individual of the same sex as the pupil being searched. Another adult will be present, but I am sure that the noble Lord does not seek to make a distinction between a teaching assistant and a teacher or some other responsible adult in a school.


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