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Alcohol Exclusion Zones

Volume 450: debated on Monday 23 October 2006

No research has been undertaken on the impact of designated public place orders—DPPOs—as they tend to form just one part of a wider local strategy for tackling alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. However, the fact that 184 local authority areas have adopted DPPOs—some of them have more than one DPPO in place—suggests that they are a useful tool in helping police deal with the problems of alcohol misuse behaviour.

Although DPPOs may be a useful tool in town centres and areas where there is a major problem, I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to the problem of small convenience stores, where young people under 18 get access to alcohol. Rather than the draconian measure of a DPPO, would not a better solution be to increase the on-the-spot fine when people are caught by the police or trading standards officers to approximately £1,000 or £2,000 if they admit guilt, and if not, to let them opt to go to a magistrates court, where they risk a higher fine under the new legislation?

I know that my hon. Friend has worked hard to tackle the issue in his constituency and that several hon. Members suffer from the same problem. The fixed penalty notice is the first option that we would expect to be used when there is a problem. However, if it is persistent, the DPPO may be appropriate even in the sort of case that my hon. Friend mentions, and the local authority could introduce it. It increases the amount of the fine available when the case goes to court. The Violent Crime Reduction Bill introduces a new offence of persistent selling to children, because they are clearly getting their alcohol from somewhere. The new offence will increase the fines on stores such as those that my hon. Friend mentioned. Not only that, it will lead to the possibility of their being closed for up to three months. If he wishes to meet me, we can discuss the matter further, but I hope that those measures reassure him to some extent.

On 22 September, Scarborough council extended its already successful alcohol exclusion zone to cover 150 streets, including the Falsgrave park area. At the same time, Conservative-controlled Scarborough, in conjunction with local company Electric Angel Design, rolled out a range of new, funky, lime green signs, which are hard to miss and designed to be eye catching for younger people. Will the Under-Secretary look at those signs, and if he agrees with me that they are not only well cool, but stand out from the morass of other street furniture, suggest that other local authorities adopt similar signs?

My briefing does not cover that point so I do not know what to say about funky signs. We believe that DPPOs are an important measure that local authorities can introduce. One hundred and eighty-four local authorities throughout the country use them—that is 396 DPPOs. They increase the powers of the police, who can confiscate alcohol from people who are drinking inappropriately on the street. If they refuse to hand over the alcohol, the police can arrest them. The message is: use DPPOs because they can be appropriate in many areas.

Does my hon. Friend know that the Government are investing more than £3 million in regenerating St. George’s square in the centre of Luton in my constituency? Does he also know that Liberal-Tory-controlled Luton council refuses to reapply for an alcohol dispersal order zone, forcing the police to do that? Will he examine councils such as Liberal-Tory Luton to ensure that they do not waste Government resources but improve our constituents’ quality of life?

I thank my hon. Friend for drawing our attention to that. Clearly, Liberal-controlled Luton council should learn from examples throughout the country, where DPPOs are successfully tackling the alcohol-related disorder in our streets. My message to all local authorities is to consider using those measures if they have a problem.

The exclusion zones are clearly effective because a neighbouring town to my constituency introduced one, thus shunting the problem into three villages in my constituency. They then also introduced exclusion zones, but there was clearly a problem this summer when I visited one of my villages because many constituents told me that they were experiencing problems. We do not have funky signs—maybe they are the answer—but does the Under-Secretary agree that policing the exclusion zones must be effective and equal throughout the relevant areas, including rural areas? Will he ensure that the guidelines are sufficient to meet the task?

When a local authority chooses to set up a DPPO, it has to take account of the impact on neighbouring areas. The answer is that people should talk to each other. However, the DPPO is only one answer to the problem of alcohol-related disorder—for example, fixed penalty notices can be used alongside it. If under-age drinking is a problem, it means that off-licences, supermarkets, pubs or clubs are selling inappropriately to children. In those circumstances, other measures should be used to tackle the problem.