Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require local authorities to impose mandatory use of plastic glasses and bottles in licensed premises; and for connected purposes.
The Bill would require the Government to work with local authorities and licensing authorities to make the use of polycarbonate bottles as a replacement for glass bottles mandatory in premises with a history of violent incidents.
A year ago, my constituent, Nicola Roberts, was in a nightclub in Wrexham. She was 20 at the time. Without warning, an unknown person threw a glass bottle across the room. It hit Nicola on the head and shattered, causing three deep wounds to her face. The wounds required 17 stitches.
Nicola decided that she was not going to accept that. She came to see me with her mother and asked why it was that, when alternatives are available, glasses and glass bottles are still used in licensed venues. I confess that I did not know the answer. From then, I have worked with her on this question. Thankfully, Nicola has now recovered fully and is looking forward to entering her final year at Leicester university. She is using her experience to raise awareness of the issue.
We know very well that Nicola is not alone as a victim. According to the Home Office, there are about 87,000 violent incidents involving glass every year in the UK, and about 5,500 glassings are reported annually. Glass can cause considerable physical damage, and glasses and bottles used as weapons can intimidate victims, bar staff or bystanders and cause serious injuries. Intact glass can cause significant damage. However, when used as a sharp weapon, the damage can be horrific. Glass-inflicted injuries to the eyes and face can require stitches or surgery and can result in heavy blood loss and even loss of sight.
As a result of my Bill appearing on the Order Paper, I was contacted by another victim who has suffered even more grievously than Nicola. Jane Sheriff is a young mother. As a result of an attack with a glass bottle in April this year, her husband, Phil, was killed. In Jane’s own words, she does not want that to happen to another family. Like Nicola Roberts, she is not prepared to accept the law as it stands.
Jane set up the bottlestopnow Facebook site, which calls for the use of glass bottles in late night venues to be banned. I have seen a powerful ITV news report that sets out her case. She has attracted huge support, which has helped me in preparing for this debate. Her site stands as a record of the huge scale of the problem and of the profound grief of those affected by attacks using glass and glass bottles. Thousands of our constituents, particularly young people, have huge, lasting physical and psychological scarring from their injuries.
I am pleased that the Government have taken some steps in this area. Reassuringly, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 lowered the standards in the Licensing Act 2003 for passing restrictions on a premises, making it easier for the police to
“seek the imposition of appropriate conditions”
if they have a concern about a particular premises.
The new package of measures will provide more powers to reduce alcohol-related violence, deaths and personal injuries, including the imposition of conditions restricting glassware to specific premises. It will also make it easier for licensing authorities to remove licences from, or refuse to grant them to, premises that cause problems.
However, we must do more. Violent incidents and attacks on our constituents, particularly young people, remain common. As long as glassing incidents continue to occur at pubs and clubs, it is the Government’s responsibility to take action to prevent more violence from occurring. I am confident that more can be done at Government level to raise awareness and to prevent the occurrence of future violent incidents caused by glass bottles. The Government need to ensure that local authorities and licensing authorities use the powers they have to promote the use of plastic bottles in bars and clubs where there is a history of violence and glassing incidents.
A number of towns and cities have made important progress on the issue. Newport city centre is now glass-free on Friday and Saturday nights after 10 pm in a bid to crack down on glass crime. That follows a campaign by the Safer Newport Partnership, which introduced a trial of polycarbonate glasses in 2010. As a result, glass and bottle attacks in the Gwent force area fell from 53 in 2006-07 to 16 between April and December 2011. Newport city council used the Licensing Act 2003, and other local authorities need to be encouraged to do the same. Other towns and cities have taken action to varying degrees, including Glasgow, Bournemouth, Manchester, Reading, Cardiff and Fareham. Community safety partnerships across the country have succeeded in addressing the problem.
Injuries cause substantial expenditure of taxpayers’ money, because criminal injury compensation awards and NHS treatments are enormously expensive. The problem absorbs a significant amount of police time and carries an estimated £100 million bill for the NHS every year.
Developing safer alternatives to traditional glasses could involve the engagement of industry, trade and consumers to create solutions. I take this opportunity to congratulate all those involved in bringing about the universal adoption of toughened glass over the past five years, and in continuing the development of manufacturing standards for such glass. What is most frustrating, however, is that we already have available an alternative to lethal glass bottles. Polycarbonate makes a durable type of plastic bottle and is extremely difficult to break. If glasses and bottles were replaced, I am quite certain that even if the number of violent incidents did not decrease, their severity would decrease substantially.
Nicola Roberts came to see me last September, and Jane Sheriff’s husband was killed this April. Phil would not have died if a ban on glass bottles had been in place. We therefore have an obligation to act now. Government legislation in other countries, such as Australia, may offer us guidance in pursuing stricter enforcement of the Licensing Act. In Queensland, the liquor licensing authorities gave establishments a year, warning that they would face restrictions if it was determined that they were high-risk venues. Venues had to submit a risk management plan detailing the steps that they would take to minimise the risk to patrons, in order to avoid a blanket ban. The high-risk venues that were issued with a blanket ban could then serve alcohol only in toughened, tempered or polycarbonate glassware.
Of course, the action of replacing glass bottles and glasses with polycarbonate ones should not be taken alone, but rather within a collective framework that addresses other contributory factors to violence in our pubs, bars and clubs, including binge drinking. We must also consider what action we can all take to minimise risks. Of course binge drinking is a major problem, and we must continue to tackle antisocial behaviour in communities across the country. I know that those and related issues were addressed in the Government’s 2010 alcohol strategy, which included commitments to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol. Nor must we overlook the causes of aggressive behaviour. However, glass replacement is one solution that has been proved to reduce the number of violent incidents and injuries.
For as long as we fail to act, young people such as Nicola will continue to be scarred and wives such as Jane will continue to be widowed. For that reason, I urge the House to support the Bill.
I do not intend to press the matter to a Division, or detain the House for long. You will appreciate, Mr Speaker, as I am sure the whole House will, that at this very minute the Prime Minister may be trying to get hold of me, so it is best that I move on as quickly as possible as I do not want to disappoint him.
I oppose the Bill because although the aim of reducing some of the serious offences listed by the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) is admirable, he is dealing with the issue in completely the wrong way. Whenever there is a problem, Labour Members always seems to believe that the solution is to ban something or ban somebody from doing something—that is the only solution they look for. Unfortunately, however, that is like saying that because there are so many accidents and people die each year on the roads, we should ban cars. This Bill is as stupid a solution to the problem we are discussing as banning cars would be to reducing road traffic accidents.
There is no doubt that the desire to reduce the number of people who suffer horrific injuries as a result of thugs who use glass bottles as weapons is admirable, but the answer to the problem does not lie in the Bill. First, the practicalities involved in banning glasses and glass bottles mean that such a measure would be virtually impossible to implement across the country. It may be easy to control the use of glasses, but what would happen to wine, champagne, beer or coke bottles? Will they be banned from the premises in case somebody gets their hands on them? What about glass tables—are we going to get rid of those too?
There are all sorts of dangerous things in pubs and clubs. Places that serve food have knives and forks, with which a terrible amount of damage can be done. During a recent TV programme about the riots, a police officer spoke about the problems that the police faced when dealing with thugs in a public house. He complained that everything was thrown at them—chairs, tables, frying pans and knives. Perhaps the hon. Member for Wrexham will seek to prevent tables, chairs, frying pans, knives, forks or anything else from being used in bars or pubs in case some thug gets their hands on them and starts trying to assault people. Where on earth would it end?
Not all glassing incidents take place in public; some take place in people’s homes, and obviously there is no possibility of banning all glass. There will always be victims of nasty glassing incidents, and even if it were possible to ban glasses in licensed premises, who would pay for it? If, in these hard-pressed times, businesses are mandated to supply non-glass glasses, not to mention bottles, will they be forced to pay, or will we pay from central funds or via local authorities? Many pubs are currently suffering, not least from the effects of the recession, high taxation and the smoking ban, and this proposal would create an extra regulatory burden and cost that the pub industry can ill afford and does not need.
The hon. Gentleman has rightly identified a problem, but there are better solutions than those in the Bill. First and foremost, we need harsher sentences for those who use glass as a weapon, and that is the route the Government should take. A sentence recently received by Rebecca Bernard at Bolton Crown court was a complete and utter joke. She reportedly had 51 previous convictions for crimes including violence and threatening behaviour when she smashed a bottle over a man’s head, and then stabbed another man in the arms with the bottle’s jagged neck. Unbelievably, she was not sent straight to prison for those violent attacks and—even worse—it appears that she had previously received a non-custodial sentence for another bottle attack. Such ridiculously lenient sentences are completely outrageous and are in no way a deterrent or suitable punishment for such vicious assaults. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to tackle the problem, rather than going down this nanny-state route, he should urge much tougher sentences to be imposed on those who perpetrate such crimes, and I would be happy to support him.
During a debate on this subject in the other place in 2009, Lord Mackay of Clashfern said that glassing
“certainly was a severe problem in Glasgow years ago. The answer to it that was produced at the time was very severe prison sentences. The judge who dealt with that problem meted out much more severe sentences than had previously been the case and reduced the incidence of the problem in Glasgow”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 October 2009; Vol. 713, c. 160.]
Lord Mackay of Clashfern has pointed the way to the solution to the problem, but both the Government and the Opposition appear intent on ignoring the obvious solution that most people in the country want.
There are other common-sense solutions apart from sentencing. Many licensees already use a combination of polycarbonate and glass, as the hon. Member for Wrexham said, and use their judgment and take precautions when antisocial behaviour is more likely to minimise the risk of glassings. For example, many use plastic glasses during busy sporting events or at live music venues.
In addition, reports from around the country show the success of voluntary efforts by Pubwatch and safer neighbourhood partnerships in encouraging and facilitating the use of polycarbonate glasses generally. The Licensing Act 2003 enables local authorities to attach conditions to licensed premises for the prevention of crime and disorder and/or to protect public safety, either from the outset or as a result of a review requested by the police or another responsible authority. Insisting on plastic glasses is an example of such a condition that could be imposed in a problem case. That power can be used when it is needed and appropriate, but the Bill proposes a blanket ban for all licensed premises.
I very much support the use of voluntary and other initiatives to minimise the problem of glassings. I applaud the work of campaigners who highlight the problem and commend the existence of projects such as Design Out Crime, which tries to promote new thinking and good design ideas to reduce crime, including alternatives to glasses.
Given that, I do not believe there should be any moves towards mandating people to use plastic glasses and bottles in all cases, as the Bill seeks. I support the voluntary measures, but, more importantly, I support much tougher sentences for those who perpetrate such terrible and horrific crimes to ensure that they cannot be let out to commit them again. For those reasons, I oppose the Bill.
That Ian Lucas, Dame Joan Ruddock, Pamela Nash, Susan Elan Jones, Hywel Williams, Albert Owen, Chris Bryant, Mark Tami and Chris Ruane present the Bill.
Ian Lucas accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 October 2012, and to be printed (Bill 63).