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Alcohol-related Antisocial Behaviour

Volume 545: debated on Monday 21 May 2012

On 23 March, I published the Government’s alcohol strategy, which set out radical proposals to tackle the harms caused by alcohol misuse and builds on the legislative steps we have already taken to give the police and local communities more powers to tackle problem premises and deal with late-night drinking problems.

Will my right hon. Friend introduce measures to encourage safe and responsible drinking in community, family-friendly pubs, rather than pre-loading at home on cheap bargain booze?

I know that my hon. Friend has long championed the cause of rural pubs in particular, and pubs that are a key part of their local communities. One of the proposals that we have put forward in the alcohol strategy, on which we are consulting, is the introduction of a minimum unit price, as well as banning bulk discount offers. We believe that both will have a significant impact on preventing people from pre-loading—which is so often a lot of the problem—after buying cheap alcohol from supermarkets. Those measures will have a real impact in helping friendly, local, well-run community pubs.

Alongside one of my local town councillors, I am working on a Safer Streets campaign in Newton Abbot, which will involve our asking local businesses to become safe havens for those who encounter antisocial behaviour in the town centre. Does the Minister agree that such schemes are effective in creating a safe environment for businesses to thrive, while also helping our attempts to deal not just with alcohol-related incidents but with all forms of antisocial behaviour?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I commend those in Newton Abbot who have put forward the scheme and are putting it in place. I think it will have a real impact. We see responsible businesses coming together with local agencies in a number of towns and cities around the country to provide people with safe drinking places, which will ensure that we can reduce alcohol-related violence and antisocial behaviour. The evidence from many places—including Durham, for example, which put forward such a plan—is that such schemes are good for the local economy, as well as for reducing crime.

When those responsible for antisocial behaviour are arrested, they should surely be dispatched to the police cells as quickly as possible. Does the Home Secretary therefore share my disappointment at the Metropolitan police’s decision to close all the cells at Harrow police station, leaving us with no cells at all—we are one of the few London boroughs in that position—and causing significant logistical and administrative problems for the police in Harrow?

It is a matter for the Metropolitan police how it chooses to arrange the provision of cells and operational matters on the ground. It is for the police to decide operational matters because they have operational independence—something that I would have thought the hon. Gentleman supported.

The Government might talk tough on tackling antisocial behaviour, but their policies do not live up to that rhetoric. Will the Home Secretary explain to my constituents why the Government are weakening powers to tackle antisocial behaviour and, in particular, why their replacement for antisocial behaviour orders does not constitute a breach of a criminal record?

We are not weakening the powers to deal with antisocial behaviour. What we have proposed—I will be publishing a White Paper on this tomorrow—will ensure that it is easier for people at the local level, including the police, local councils and others, to exercise powers on antisocial behaviour. Crucially, for the first time we are also giving individuals and communities an opportunity to trigger action to ensure that when there is long-standing antisocial behaviour that has not been dealt with, action must be taken.

Will the Home Secretary join me in paying tribute to the work of special constables in tackling antisocial behaviour associated with alcohol? A group of special constables from Brixton are in the Gallery today. Between them they have put in more than 680 hours of voluntary work, and they are quite clear that the bulk of antisocial behaviour is associated with alcohol and/or drugs.

The sentiment is greatly appreciated, but just for future reference, we do not in this place refer to the Gallery, no matter how distinguished or worthy the people in it are.

I value the work done by special constables. There are many examples, like the one my hon. Friend cited, of special constables actively working in the community to reduce antisocial behaviour. Special constables do a good job all the time, so I would encourage more people to become special constables, which is a valuable way of volunteering and giving a great deal back to local communities.

Breach of an ASBO is a serious business. That is why it is a crime. Will Ministers confirm that a breach of their proposed replacement—the crime prevention injunction—will not be a criminal offence?

The Government intend to produce a White Paper. I have said that it will be published tomorrow, so I suggest the hon. Lady waits to see what is in it.