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Alcohol-related Crime

Volume 485: debated on Monday 15 December 2008

The majority of people who drink enjoy alcohol sensibly, but we are determined to take action to reduce the health and social harms caused by those who do not. We have recently announced actions to combat the problem, including a new mandatory code of practice to target the most irresponsible retail practices, a £3 million cash injection for crime and disorder reduction partnerships for enforcement activities in 198 areas and a further £1.5 million for our priority areas to tackle underage sales, confiscate alcohol from under-18s and run campaigns to tell people what action is being taken locally to reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder.

I am sure we all want to find more ways of reducing alcohol-related crime in our town centres, such as the “Behave or Be Banned” campaign that is running in my area. In the light of my talks with the mayor of Llanelli about creating an alcohol-free zone in the centre of the town, may I ask the Home Secretary what success such zones have had elsewhere and what other measures she would recommend to reduce alcohol-related disorder?

First, I commend my hon. Friend for working with her local colleagues to make use of the tools that the Government have put in place—I believe she was referring to a designated public place order in this case. We take very seriously the responsibility to make clear to local partners, such as the ones to whom she refers, the tools that are available. That is why we have been running a series of regional workshops—two have taken place and one more is due to take place—which have been extremely well received. Alongside the sort of local activity that she is talking about, the use of Government-provided tools and the new initiatives that we have recently announced will help to ensure that those people who want to drink sensibly can do so, but those who cause harm to themselves or others will be prevented from doing so.

No, and nor do independent assessments, including the report on the impact of the Licensing Act 2003, which was published in 2008. It showed that the overall volume of incidents of crime and disorder remained unchanged, and that there were signs that crimes involving serious violence may have reduced and that local residents were less likely to say that drunk and rowdy behaviour was a problem. I do believe it is important that the elements of the 2003 Act that provide more opportunities for local partners and police to limit the unacceptable activities of licensed premises should be used more, and that is precisely what we are trying to enable people to do at the moment.

I wonder whether the Home Secretary has time in her busy week to come with me to visit Tesco, where she would be able to see the unacceptable practices still being conducted by the supermarkets. They are selling alcohol very cheaply—three for the price of one—and putting all kinds of promotions before people to enable them to buy more and more alcohol cheaply. That is what contributes to our disorder. Will she not accept that the Government must have a floor price on the alcohol sold at supermarkets in order to tackle this very serious problem of alcohol-related crime, especially at this time of the year?

During my busy weekend, I was able to take a trip to a supermarket. As I think I said the last time he questioned me about this, my right hon. Friend’s Committee made some important recommendations, and those have certainly fed into the proposals we are making to help counter alcohol-related disorder. We carried out a considerable research study with the university of Sheffield on the impact of minimum pricing, and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has made clear, given the current economic climate in particular, we do not intend at this moment to introduce the sort of minimum price to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) was referring. However, we certainly have not closed off that option for the future, and the Health Secretary is already undertaking more work into the impact and consequences of that particular form of action.

I disagree with the Chairman of the Select Committee on which I serve, but I accept that there is a point to address about people “tanking up” on cheap supermarket booze at home before unleashing themselves on the streets. I agree that it would be wrong for a Government to set a minimum price for alcohol, but will she encourage the supermarkets, which talk an awful lot in our constituencies about their social responsibility to the community, to think of this issue as part of that responsibility? Perhaps, given our particular problems, they should be encouraged, voluntarily, to be a little more responsible.

Perhaps I should make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that my visit to the supermarket over the weekend was not made to “tank up” before I hit the streets. However, I agree with his point about the social responsibility of supermarkets—responsibility that I know they also take seriously and which I am sure they would want to manifest publicly.

This weekend, a further five street pastors were commissioned in Bridgend. That brings the total to 46 individuals from 17 churches giving their time to support the police in tackling antisocial behaviour and inappropriate drinking, and helping people who are distressed out on the streets of Bridgend when, on a Friday or Saturday night, they have gone out for a social occasion. Is that not another way in which we can reclaim the streets for ordinary law-abiding people so that people can enjoy a night out without having to be intimidated and threatened?

May I also advise my right hon. Friend that the street pastors are now not only covering that 10 until 4 in the morning slot, but going on to one of my estates and working from 6 until 8 with youngsters, which will also improve life on that estate?

I thank my hon. Friend for inviting me to Bridgend to see the excellent work being done by the street pastors alongside the local police force and the local authority. I was impressed by that partnership. As she says, it was already showing considerable results on the streets and I am pleased to hear that it has been expanded.

Despite the Home Secretary’s promise of more legislation, the Home Office still has not got round to implementing existing alcohol legislation on the introduction of drinking banning orders. Will she confirm whether the Home Office was unable to reach agreement with the Ministry of Justice on the cost of implementing the orders, estimated at £32.5 million under the MOJ’s controls on downstream costs on the courts and legal aid budgets, and whether the Home Office’s legislative hyperactivity is finally catching up with it and it is becoming an unlikely new victim of the economic downturn?

No, because as I announced recently we will be introducing drinking banning orders by application next year.