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Alcohol-related Crime

Volume 455: debated on Monday 15 January 2007

The Home Office did not undertake a specific data collection exercise to assess alcohol-related crime during the Christmas and new year period. However, the Home Office collects alcohol-related crime and disorder statistics on an annual basis through the British crime survey. The data covering 2006-07 are planned for publication in July 2007.

Given that the latest data from the British crime survey show that 47 per cent. of crime is alcohol-related, does it make sense for there to be no funding for the alcohol treatment requirements of community orders or suspended sentences, as confirmed by the Minister in response to my question on 8 November? Is it not the reality that the Government have done much to make alcohol more accessible, but little to pick up the tab and address the consequences of their actions?

We can bandy statistics of what has happened with alcohol-related crime, but the hon. Gentleman quoted the BCS, which said, for example, that the number of incidents in which the victim believed that the offender was under the influence of alcohol had fallen by about one third since 1995. However, the hon. Gentleman raises an important question. Is alcohol-related violence too high? Yes it is, and we are trying to do something about that. Do we need to look at our strategy for dealing with alcohol-related violence? Yes we do, and we are taking a number of measures to do that. What about those who might need treatment? We are looking at what we can do with respect to that. The Government are examining our alcohol harm reduction strategy in tackling alcohol-related violence, in toughening the law and ensuring enforcement on the street and in developing treatment to deal with alcohol in a medical sense, which can be made available through either the criminal justice system or the NHS.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is with premises where the publican is happy to allow customers to get tanked up, but ejects them when they start causing problems and denies any responsibility? I recently went out with the West Midlands police on night patrols in areas where that is a problem. They pointed out that one way round the problem is close co-ordination between the police service and the licensing authority—the local authority—to ensure that such premises have their licences removed.

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We all know that powers have been made available to the police and local authorities to deal with such problems. Where those powers are used, they make a real difference to tackling problems of disorder in our town centres. I have seen the excellent work done in Nottingham and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was there only last Thursday night, when he saw the use of closure powers by the local authority, the use of fixed penalty notices by the police and tough enforcement action on the street. He saw, as I did, that where there is tough enforcement action, and people working together and using all the powers that are available to them, a real difference can be made in tackling alcohol-related violence and disorder. In Nottingham, the latest figures show that where that has been done, there has been a 31 per cent. reduction in alcohol-related crime.

Under previous licensing arrangements, a lot of drinkers used to go home at chucking-out time, causing no difficulty to the police and law and order forces. [Hon. Members: “No.”] Many did, but quite a lot did not. Does the Minister accept that a regrettable unintended consequence of the new licensing arrangements is that many young people go on to other premises, drink for much longer and get into trouble with police later in the night?

I do not agree with that at all. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I did not notice that, when young people were coming out of pubs at 11 pm, everything was calmness and light. The Licensing Act 2003 gives flexibility to licensed premises to determine when they wish to close. The anecdotal evidence, which we are analysing as we go along, so far shows that the fact that not everybody is turned out of premises at the same time does not cause disorder, but helps to quell it.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a great difference in alcohol-related offences owing to the fixed penalty notice? Up to the middle of December in my home city of Brighton and Hove, any notices handed out to anyone enjoying the festive season meant that they created no more disturbances throughout the rest of the night. Does he have any plans to extend that successful scheme?

We are always considering how to extend what has been successful. My hon. Friend said how effective penalty notices have been. People want justice and the fixed penalty notices now available to the police mean that there can be swift justice on the street and that the police can deal quickly with people who act irresponsibly. The notices keep the police on the street, reduce bureaucracy and mean that the police are where we want them: patrolling in our communities.