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Alcohol-related Crime and Disorder

Volume 487: debated on Monday 9 February 2009

12. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of measures to reduce levels of alcohol-related crime and disorder. (254648)

The most recently published report, “The impact of the Licensing Act 2003 on levels of crime and disorder”, found that crimes involving serious violent crime may have reduced. Local residents were less likely to say that drunken and rowdy behaviour was a problem. The Government announced a new mandatory code of practice to target the most irresponsible retail practices, a £3 million cash injection for crime and disorder reduction partnerships and for partnership activities in 190 areas, and a further £1.5 million for police enforcement in priority areas.

In a survey carried out in the north-west, almost 72 per cent. of Macclesfield residents expressed deep concern about the amount of drunkenness and antisocial behaviour fuelled by alcohol. Andy Smith, the chairman of Pubwatch in Macclesfield, blames the superstores, which hugely discount strong lagers and beers. People who go into a supermarket can buy any amount of alcohol and drink it on the street, but those who go into a pub are disciplined and subject to the survey of the staff of that pub. Would the Minister encourage drinking in pubs and would he give them more help and less regulation, rather than no regulation, which is what exists for superstores?

The reality is that the problems to which the hon. Gentleman refers can be caused by either on or off-licence sales. We are working with both sectors to try to reduce the problem. We are working with retailers through the challenge 25 scheme, for instance, to stop under-age drinking. We are also working to ensure that those who misbehave are the ones who are penalised. We are looking at a range of measures, targeting not only supermarkets, but public houses and clubs, through a mandatory code of practice, so that by working with the industry, whether on or off-licence, we bear down on something that, as he said, is still causing a problem in a number of areas.

We are seeing pubs close at the unprecedented rate of four or five a day around the nation. In parallel with that, we are seeing the phenomenon of breweries being unable to find permanent licensees for some of their premises and having to deploy temporary staff. Will the Minister tell us whether, as appears to be the case, there is evidence that such staff are not as rigorous at complying with licensing regulations, and whether the police and others are paying special attention when disorder is linked to premises that go through a temporary landlord perhaps every three or four months?

We are aware of the rate of pub closures, but I want to point out to my hon. Friend that it is more than the restrictions and regulatory burdens that we might place on premises that is behind those closures. We take very seriously the issue of staff in pubs, which is why we need to ensure that they have not only proper training but the confidence to challenge people about their behaviour, particularly in regard to buying drink for under-age youngsters. We will go on with that work.

While I strongly applaud the hon. Members who have spoken out in defence of conventional pubs, may I ask the Minister whether he is happy with the arrangements for planning permission for all-night clubs? In particular, does he think it right that the council considering such an application is not allowed to take account of representations from affected residents unless they live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed premises? Even those who live on the access routes to and from the premises cannot be consulted.

One of the important measures to which the hon. Gentleman is referring is the Licensing Act 2003, which gives an unprecedented amount of influence over such decisions to residents—and, indeed, to the police and others. They have the powers that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. It is up to the licensing and planning committees rigorously to enforce the powers that they have.