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Jim Knight: I am happy with the idea that the vast majority of our electors are responsible drinkers, including the vast majority of young people. I do not want to label young people as irresponsible. The irresponsible minority who cannot handle their drink and who cause alcohol-related violence must be dealt with, and the 2003 Act gives the police and local councils the powers to do that.
I was a member of the Standing Committee that scrutinised the 2003 Act, which is based on sound logic. Alcohol-fuelled violence is a problem on our streets and we need to liberalise the laws for the many, while clamping down on the few who abuse them. We are not discussing 24-hour drinking but flexible drinking. The British Beer and Pub Association conducted an extensive survey of its members and did not find anyone who wants to open for 24 hours. It is unfortunate that some people are getting on the bandwagon and labelling the policy as 24-hour drinking to score points with their friends at the Daily Mail. Who is the leader of the Opposition in this country? Is it the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) or the editor of the Daily Mail? However, that is not the subject of this afternoon's debate.
My view has been informed by accompanying the police in Weymouth late on a Friday night and through into Saturday morning to observe the behaviour of some of the irresponsible members of the community, who mix with the many responsible people who enjoy their leisure time in Weymouth town centre. I observed the activity in Weymouth town centre on the extensive CCTV system, which is funded by this Government, and on the streets with police officers.
In Weymouth, there are pinch points between 11 pm and 11.30 pm, when the pubs chuck out, after 2 am, when the nightclubs chuck out, and in Westham road, where late-night refreshment establishments are concentrated, where people get kebabs, pizzas and chips and where the concentration of people towards the end of the evening and early in the morning causes a lot of disturbance and inevitably leads to fights, which can occur over taxis. I have spoken to the police, met local licensing officers and discussed the matter with taxi drivers in my constituency and they all agree that the most important way in which to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence is to remove the pinch points. That is why a flexible approach is the right one in dealing with alcohol-related antisocial behaviour.
The police want the resources to deal with the problem properly. That is why I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's announcement of the fees structure, particularly the multiplier. That means that town centre licensed premises will have to pay considerably more than those with lower rateable values, so the full cost of inspection and enforcement can be recouped from those who make profits from selling alcohol and the community no will no longer have to pay through its council tax.
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The Act introduces a complete policy that tackles late night refreshment as well as licensing. That is welcome. Licensing officers and police in Swanage in my constituency have told me that one or two establishments selling kebabs and the like, where people congregate after the pubs have shut, are the main cause of civil disorder and public nuisance.
The Act contains many powers that balance the liberalisation that I have advocated in respect of reducing the pinch points. They include the power of the police to close premises down for 24 hours where they see disorder, the inclusion of late night refreshments and the ability to introduce a special policy, although I have some concerns about that along the lines articulated by the hon. Member for Bath. I welcome the introduction of personal licences, whereby a licence is required not only for the premises but for the person who is responsible in that operation. That licence equates to their personal livelihood, which they put at risk if they flout the law. That is a powerful sanction.
At the heart of the approach taken in the Act is the principle of local accountability. People now have the power to object to their elected representatives, and if their elected representatives choose not to listen, they have the power to vote them out of office at the next election.
Jim Knight: I have given way twice and used up all my available time, although of course I would love to listen once again to the wisdom of the hon. Gentleman, having heard so many of his wise words on all sorts of bizarre things in Standing Committee.
The aims of the new policy, which are stated at the beginning of the Act and in every licensing policy that every council will introduce, are to reduce public nuisance and disorder and to reduce harm to children. Every council has a responsibility to implement a policy that fulfils those aims, with which I am sure that every Member in the House agrees.
The views of the police were expressed clearly when we debated the legislation, but they seem, like many others, to have come under the influence of our friends at the Daily Mail. At the time of the White Paper, the Association of Chief Police Officers said:
"Well, let's get it straight, we're not against twenty four hour licensing, that's not the issue at all. What we're saying at the moment is that if we continue to run licences for twenty four hours in the way that we're running them currently we're going to have more street disorder, more drunkenness, more bad behaviour over a longer period."
Voices in the police are clearly saying that the status quo is not working. We all know that that is the case and that we have to take action now, and that is why a delay in
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the implementation of the Act would be a mistake. I do not understand why Opposition Members are arguing for a such delay, which would deny to the police and local authorities new powers to act against the problems that we are experiencing in our town centres.
In my constituency, I am working on a campaign, which I have discussed with Feargal Sharkey and others on the Live Music Forum, to encourage licensed premises to promote more live music now that they will no longer have to pay extra to do so. That might be popular not only with our younger voters but with voters of all ages, as I saw on Sunday afternoon when I attended, as did more than 600 others, a fundraising concert in Weymouth for victims of the tsunami disaster, where we listened to the likes of Billy Bragg. About £20,000 was raised by the many music lovers in my constituency, who want the Act to be implemented as soon as possible so that we can encourage more venues to promote live music.
I urge hon. Membersand even right hon. Members, although I do not know if they will all listento support the Government amendment and wholeheartedly reject the opportunistic, bandwagoning approach of the Conservatives.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight). He did not go out of his way to cultivate the support of the readers and editor of the Daily Mail, which might have been unwise given his small majority.
I do not normally contribute to debates on licensing, and feel a little like a stranger who has wandered into a bar where a few regulars are exchanging familiar arguments and anecdotes. Nevertheless, I want briefly to make two points. The first echoes what the hon. Member for South Dorset said about his experiences while out with the police. I spent 30 days on the police service parliamentary scheme. Several of those days and nights were spent in Southampton inspecting exactly the problem that we have been discussing. That is when I first came across the phrase, "the night-time economy." To begin with, I was suspicious of what I regarded as a new Labour phrase. However, it is true that Southampton has a night-time economy that complements its day-time economy and which will probably, with the passage of time, become more important as people have more money and leisure.
That economy relates not only to pubs and clubs, but to food outlets and minicabs and, going back a stage, to clothes, shoes and fashion accessories. There is an industry there of which we should be cognisant, and as a Conservative who is responsive to market forces, my overall instincts are not to stand in the way of such an expression of consumer power. It is important that those of us in the House of Commons, which is slightly detached from young voters, should not say anything that implies that we do not understand how young people like to use their leisure. They like to pub and club, at times of the day and night when most of us are asleep, and the vast majority do so entirely inoffensively. Indeed, when I went round the pubs and clubs in
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Southampton, the vast majority of people, including several off-duty policemen and women, were enjoying themselves and acting entirely responsibly.
I was struck by the all-pervasiveness of CCTV, not only at fixed points run by the local authority but as mobile cameras operated by the police. Young people should realise that, if they commit an offence in a city centre, it is almost certainly recorded on CCTV somewhere and will be used in evidence. On one occasion, I saw a young man being chased by potential assailants just outside the city centre. He headed for a spot that he knew was covered by CCTV, and the moment he got there his assailants stopped chasing him. Although CCTV may be criticised on libertarian or displacement grounds, I am all in favour of it as regards bringing law and order to the city centre. I was worried not so much by the alcohol as by the noise, which struck me as far more likely to injure people's health than alcohol. Several of the young people were not drinking alcohol at all, but soft drinks.
Of course there are problems, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) rightly said. There are some very aggressive people, and I was interested to see how well informed many of them are as to exactly how far they can go with the police without getting arrested. They know that they can abuse the police without getting arrested because they have to be cautioned first. Once they are arrested, it is clear that everything that people say about police bureaucracy and filling forms is true. When we took one inebriated young man to the custody suite, the policeman had to fill in a form before he could be taken in. One of the questions was: "What is your religion?" If one asks a man inflamed with alcohol what his religion is, one is likely to spark a theological discussion in which everybody else in the custody suite feels free to join. I am sure that one could consider more critically the number of questions on the form that people have to answer before they are allowed to go through. In one case, a man, once arrested, had to be detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. That meant that the policeman who arrested him had to spend the whole of the rest of his beat in the cell sitting next to him. He was therefore off duty.
Many policemen who should be policing the city centres do not do so because they are back at the police station, filling in forms and getting tied up with bureaucracy. There is enormous scope to streamline that. If people are charged, the defence solicitors are up to every trick in the book. Even though they know that their client is guilty, they will advise him to plead not guilty in case the witnesses or the police do not turn up. If they do, the plea is switched to guilty in the hope of a lenient sentence. Much can therefore be done in the existing framework to improve the effectiveness of policing.
My second point is based on what happens in Andover. The brewing industry appears to focus on the city centres. In my part of Hampshire, it drives up the rents of the village pubs, which are closing, and opens fresh outlets in the city and town centres. I ask it to consider what it is doing. Viable village pubs become unviable if the rents are jacked up in the rent review. We have lost the Hare and Hounds outside Andover, and other pubs are threatened.
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Yesterday, I spoke to the landlord of the Southampton Arms in Andover, where we have pubwatch, which I am sure that other hon. Members have in their constituencies. There are some 26 individuals on the Andover pubwatch scheme. I found it interesting that the police implement it in Andover. The police rather than the landlord impart the good news to the individual that he is banned from every pub in Andover. That obviously removes a point of friction between the customer and the landlord.
The application forms for the new regime that starts on 7 February are not available at the local authority in Andover. The people to whom I spoke yesterday believe that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for ensuring that the forms are available. It is unlikely that any pubs in Andover will open for 24 hours but the position may be different in other constituencies.
Some people are reluctant to go to the town centre, especially at weekends. To deal with that, the police are piloting a new strategy for eight weeks. It has two key personalities. The first is PC Ken Crosby, who is based on a bicycle. That enables him to access the many alleyways and pedestrianised areas of the town. He has CCTV on his helmet and his job is to identify potential trouble makersgroups of young people who could cause difficulty. He is backed up by a 4x4, which has CCTV front and rear. It also has three directional microphones that pick up sounds 100 yd away and is backed up by a community patrol vehicle.
Another key personality is Amara, a black Labrador, who sniffs out a wide range of drugs. She can smell crack cocaine at 40 ft and she examines people who stand in line for the clubs. To keep her on her toes, there are two stooges with 10 g of cocaine somewhere in Andover. They ensure that she is alert.
The new scheme covers the off-licences as well as licensed premises. As we have heard, off-licences are often the problem. It is supported by the local authority licensing officer, the community wardens and the fire service. It focuses roughly on 2 am when there is a mass exodus and concentrates on the taxi ranks and fast food outlets.
The initial evidence from the pilot scheme is encouraging. Proactive arrests early in the evening send a clear signal to the rest of the community. There is some evidence that the licensees are acting more responsibly and that revellers are more aware of what is going on.
Although the House needs to tackle big strategic issues such as whether it is the right time to change the regime and the impact on consumption of longer or more flexible licensing hours, whatever the regime, much could and should be done now. My experience of Andover shows that genuine progress can be made through the police and local authorities working together and sending out a strong signal to minimise the irresponsible minority who threaten the pleasures of the vast law-abiding majority.
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