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"We will monitor the impact of the 2003 Act on crime and disorder and the other licensing objectives. If necessary in the light of these findings, we will introduce further legislation with the consent of Parliament to strengthen or alter any provisions."
The 2003 Act came fully into force in November 2005 and has now been in force for more than four years. As promised, the Government have kept the impact of the Act under close scrutiny and we are now asking the House to extend the powers that we originally gave to the licensing authorities in the light of our evaluation.
Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Can the Minister explain what happened between December 2009 and February 2010 that caused the Government to bring forward this motion to include in the Bill measures that were not thought appropriate to include a few months ago?
Mr. Sutcliffe: The hon. Gentleman considers these issues in great detail, and he will be aware that the problems caused by alcohol are dealt with across government. Different Departments have a viewpoint-
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the Minister again. This debate is not on whether the restrictions on the hours during which alcohol may be sold are a good thing or not: it is merely on whether to allow the Public Bill Committee to make such a provision. I hope that that clarifies the matter.
Mr. Chope: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish to clarify your ruling. Would it be in order for the Minister to address the issue of why these provisions were not included in the Bill back in December, but are being proposed for inclusion now?
Mr. Sutcliffe: The idea is to try to maximise our support for the police and local authorities in relation to alcohol and crime and disorder. In our view, the powers under the 2003 Act need to be strengthened, given the evaluation that was published in March 2008. We have been trying to find the earliest opportunity to provide that extra support to the police, as I am sure the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) would wish us to do. We need to give maximum support to the police to deal with those small areas where crime and disorder occur.
Keith Vaz: What is baffling the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and me is why now. Why are we dealing with this issue now, in the middle of the Bill? Why are we debating an instruction at this stage? Has a research note of some kind arrived on my hon. Friend's desk? Why now rather than at the beginning of the Bill?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I am confused that Members appear not to want us bring forward support for the police to the House at the earliest opportunity. The evaluation report contained issues that needed to be looked at, and this is the first opportunity to put forward provisions that will assist the police.
Mr. Sutcliffe: I did not say that it was the police. I said that the provisions would give powers to support the police and local authorities. The change in the Licensing Act 2003 took powers from the magistrates courts and gave them to local government. The effect of the Act has been to support the work done by the partnership between local government and the police. The Government wish to ensure that we provide what extra support is possible, and it is clear that the hours of 3 am and 6 am are an issue when it comes to alcohol-related crime.
Keith Vaz: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Of course, we respect totally what you have said, and if we catch your eye, we will try to stay in order. But the Minister is now advancing reasons as to why this is happening, and therefore exciting hon. Members into wanting to intervene because he is dealing with substance, not process.
Mr. Sutcliffe: I find this rather surprising. There should be broad support for the measure being put into the Bill and the outcome that we are trying to achieve, and we are trying to be as helpful as possible to the House in discussing our intentions.
Mr. Burns: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I seek your advice? The Minister did not answer my earlier point. He is talking-quite eloquently and knowledgeably-about new clauses that will be introduced to a Bill being discussed in Committee upstairs. This input into the Bill comes from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the hon. Gentleman is the responsible Minister, so why is he not to be on the Committee? That would allow hon. Members to hold effective discussions about this matter with the lead Minister. Instead, that will have to be done with a Home Office Minister. This seems to have been cobbled together at the last minute, but it appears that the Government cannot take it to its logical conclusion by having the relevant Minister for this part of the legislation in Committee to be held to account by hon. Members.
Mr. Greg Knight: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the light of the argument that the Minister is pursuing, which appears to be that the Government have had a change of heart and want to include provisions on the sale of alcohol in the Bill, would you, Madam Deputy Speaker, allow those of us who might want to include other things in this Bill to submit a manuscript amendment to the instruction before the House?
As I said, there will be five new sections in the Bill-sections 172A to 172E-and they will extend only to England and Wales. The changes to the 2003 Act will provide licensing authorities, almost all of which are local authorities, with a power to ban 24-hour licences-
Mr. Sutcliffe: This is the first opportunity that we have had to put it before the House since our decision to include it in the Bill. As I have said, we are trying to be helpful in giving the House the opportunity to have a full discussion about the issues.
I was talking about how the changes would provide licensing authorities, almost all of which are local authorities, with a power to ban 24-hour licences in either the whole of their areas or in smaller, more confined parts. However, the new clause would require that such an order may not be made unless certain preconditions are met. The effect of an order would be to restrict sales or supplies of alcohol so that they could
not take place between the hours of 3 am and 6 am. Such an order would override the effect of any premises licence, club premises certificate or temporary event notice otherwise authorising sales or supplies at that time of the early morning. It would also override any licence, certificate or temporary event notice regardless of whether it was issued before or after the order was made.
"Thus for the-well-measured-category of more serious crimes of violence, there was an increase in the number of offences committed between 3am and 6am that was small in absolute terms - 236 incidents - but large in proportionate terms - 25%"...The peak time for serious violent crime shifted forward by about an hour."
The debate on the motion before the House is, quite rightly, about the process that we are moving forward. We believe that the motion will support our attempt to help the police, licensing authorities and local government, by ensuring that they have every opportunity to reduce crime on our streets. I hope that the House will support the motion.
James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate, if not to talk about the substantive measures that may or may not come forward as a consequence of the motion, which the Minister outlined in his opening comments.
This reflects some of the comments made thus far, but as an opening remark I have to say that it is remarkable that the Government should yet again be coming to the House to seek further permissions in relation to what is becoming the Christmas tree Bill of all Christmas tree Bills-a Bill that has seemingly had more added to it than was in it in the first place. The ink on the printed version of the Bill was hardly dry before we learned that new provisions would be added. The Home Secretary informed the House on Second Reading that additional clauses would be incorporated to cover compensation for victims of overseas terrorism. Only last week the Government returned to the House again to seek a Ways and Means resolution to permit additional provisions on car clamping. We discovered yesterday that they are now adding provisions to the Bill on stop-and-search powers in the context of control orders, and now we have the additional consent to debate measures on licensing hours that is sought by today's motion.
It is astonishing that with so little time left in this Parliament, the Government should be using it in such a shambolic way. So much for joined-up government. If the motion is passed, the Government will simply seek to add another eye-catching initiative to a hotch-potch of a Bill-a Bill full of disparate measures designed to create headlines, rather than real solutions to the problems of this country, which are made worse by this Government.
Why the urgency? Why the sudden need to obtain permission today? Is it because the Government want to use the powers set out in the motion to repeal their shambolic alcohol disorder zones-a policy so successful that, as the Home Secretary confirmed in answer to a parliamentary question yesterday, no local authority has exercised its ability to implement one? The answer is no: in fact, the Government propose to spend more time on that failed measure, by tinkering with the drafting in the vain hope that that will have councillors beating a path to Marsham street, clamouring to become the first recipient of an alcohol disorder zone. The Government claim that such a measure would be a last resort, but that is more a reflection on them than on the unworkable policy to which that claim relates.
Is the reason perhaps that some new and urgent research has been forthcoming, highlighting new problems arising in the early hours of the morning from the impact of the Licensing Act 2003, and thereby justifying the need all of a sudden to bring forward this motion requiring debate in the Public Bill Committee on the Crime and Security Bill? The answer is no: in fact, the Government have known about the issues for around three years and done absolutely nothing about them. The Minister has already referred to the Home Office document, "Violent crime, disorder and criminal damage since the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003", which was published in July 2007. That report highlighted rising levels of criminal damage, stating:
"The number of offences happening between 3am and 6am were consistently higher in each of the four three-monthly periods after the introduction of the Act compared with the equivalent periods in the previous year".
Again, is the reason for today's motion that there is some new evidence? Let us look at the evidence drawn to our attention in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's "Evaluation of the Impact of the Licensing Act 2003", which was published nearly two years ago, in March 2008. It said that
"violent crime occurring in the small hours of the morning has grown."
If the Government have known about the issue for such a long time, why the sudden urgency? Why has this not been addressed before? Why was this measure not deemed sufficiently important to be incorporated in the Bill before it was published? Indeed, if these issues have been known about for so long, why were suitable powers not included in the Policing and Crime Act 2009, which dealt with licensing measures only a few months ago?
Perhaps the Government finally believe that there is a key issue involved in the number of pubs, off licences and other outlets remaining open between 3 am and 6 am. Apparently not. The Home Secretary told the
"Today" programme as recently as 19 January that open-all-hours licensing was not an issue. He said:
"It's not 24-hour licensing...The average extra amount of time that pubs and clubs are open is 21 minutes."
"There is no evidence of 24 hour drinking, with only a minority of premises securing 24 hour licences and very few actually utilising those hours. There have been only limited changes to actual opening hours."
"470 pubs, bars and nightclubs have 24 hour licences, but there is no evidence that more than a handful operate on that basis."
If that is the case, the Government's introduction of this motion today paints a slightly confused picture. Do they now believe that this is an issue? Previously, they suggested that it was not. Their approach is confused and shambolic, at best.
Mr. Bone: I guess that the issue on which the House will divide is whether the power should be given to the Committee to consider making the restrictions. The Committee would then argue about them. I wonder whether this has been tacked on as some kind of vote-grabbing measure because there is a general election on the horizon.
We believe that the fettering of the licensing powers given to local authorities is a significant problem. It might therefore be helpful for the Public Bill Committee to be able to debate the issue. That would allow its members to highlight the fact that, between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the number of finished admissions for patients with an alcohol-related diagnosis increased from 644,000 to 945,000-a rise of 47 per cent. It would also allow a debate on how alcohol was a factor in almost 42,000 cases of children under the age of 18 being admitted to English hospitals in the past three years, according to official figures.
Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the motion would allow a debate on alcohol-related crime, which costs the taxpayer £7.3 billion. The worry for me and others is the possibility of another order being brought before the House before the recess on, for example, the question of whether there should be a floor price for alcohol. The Government have resisted such a proposal, but I am worried that it could be put into another motion. We need a substantive debate on these subjects, rather than a brief debate on process.
James Brokenshire: Obviously, if the motion is accepted, it will facilitate debate in the Public Bill Committee. It would then be open to right hon. and hon. Members to table amendments on Report, should we reach that stage, which would facilitate the wider debate on the substantive issues that the right hon. Gentleman seeks. I hear his concern about the number of orders and procedural matters that are being brought before the House in relation to this Bill. There is a worry that some completely new issue that has nothing to do with alcohol could be tacked on. I have already described the Bill as the Christmas tree Bill of all Christmas tree Bills, with all these additional provisions being added at the last moment. This does not aid proper consideration.
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