Binge Drinking

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 10th May 2004.

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Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South 2:30 pm, 10th May 2004

What measures he proposes to combat antisocial behaviour caused by binge drinking.

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

On 15 March, we launched our alcohol harm reduction strategy. Taken together with the new slimmed-down antisocial behaviour orders, the dispersal and curfew powers and the ability to levy fixed penalty notices, we believe that the new clampdown by Paul Evans, the head of the standards unit in our Department, will help to tackle head-on under-age drinking, binge drinking and chronic drinking. He will be able to assist us with all that from his experience as police chief in Boston, where he had tremendous success in turning a city with a major problem of violence and alcohol abuse into a city that is now, as I found when I was there at the beginning of March, easy, fit and clean to walk in.

Photo of Ben Chapman Ben Chapman Labour, Wirral South

Notwithstanding all the measures that have been put in place, antisocial behaviour by young people, fuelled by alcohol, remains a major problem in Wirral, South. It causes mayhem, from the knocking off of car badges to the knocking down of gravestones and the wilful destruction of bus shelters and telephone kiosks. That all creates a climate of fear and, in effect, no-go areas at night for some of my constituents. What further measures could be put in place to free my constituents from that scourge?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not disagree at all with my hon. Friend: this is a scourge. About one third of those who are arrested in town and city centres have been involved in alcohol abuse and more than two fifths of those involved in violent crime have been indulging in the overuse of alcohol. That is a major scourge. However, it is not only the legislation or enforcement measures that I have already enunciated that are crucial; also crucial are the partnership with the industry that produces and retails alcohol and a change in the education process, along with the sensible use of family pressure. We also need to give a message to those who give planning consent for large-volume, or vertical drinking, establishments, to get across that there is a need for social responsibility from the business and commercial community as well as from everyone else—[Interruption.] Yes, vertical drinking often leads to horizontal sleeping and, unfortunately, too many people stagger out on to the street to cause mayhem before they do fall asleep.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London)

In the blizzard of announcements and initiatives in the Home Secretary's answer to Mr. Chapman, there was no mention of the Licensing Act 2003. How does the right hon. Gentleman feel that the introduction of 24-hour drinking under that Act will improve the Government's record on binge drinking and antisocial behaviour?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The guidance that we have established between the Home Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport makes clear the powers that are available and the restrictions that should be put in place and, under the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, there is now the ability to close establishments immediately there is a problem. The lessons learned from Scotland and the evidence from across the continent were the driving force behind the Licensing Act, and I thought that there had been varying degrees of support from all parties in the House for the experiment of trying to ensure that people drink sensibly over a longer period. I would also advocate that they eat more while drinking at the times of day when drinking is most likely to cause abuse, inconvenience and damage to other people. [Interruption.] To judge from some of the heckling, it sounds as though one or two people probably indulged a bit at lunch time.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

Binge drinking and social disorder in town centres as a result of drinking were among the major issues raised in a big conversation event concerning community safety that I held last week. Two specific issues were raised, one about planning and the proliferation of licensed premises, and the other about the responsibilities of licensed premises, some of which have totally irresponsible promotions such as, "All you can drink for £10" and "Two drinks for the price of one." Is there anything that could be done about the responsibilities of the drinks industry?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

Following the announcement on 15 March, the Prime Minister established a forum in which representatives of the industry are being invited to come and talk through the measures that the industry is prepared to take to act responsibly. In the end, of course, if it does not do so, and if those very large premises, and the consequent antisocial behaviour that spills out on to the street, persist, we shall inevitably have to seek further powers. It is therefore in the best interests of all those involved in the industry, tourism and entertainment to be prepared to make themselves available as partners rather than opponents and ensure that we all gain from sensible drinking and entertainment and from city and town centres that are free and secure to walk in at night.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

Following the Home Secretary's trenchant comments on the retail sector, can he explain why, since 1997, an average of only 12 prosecutions a year have been brought against landlords for maintaining disorderly premises?

Photo of David Blunkett David Blunkett The Secretary of State for the Home Department

First, the powers for immediate closure were not available, so the bureaucracy that has been referred to in other contexts this afternoon often got in the way of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service when they tried to pursue such matters. With the new measures, including those involving licensing and planning, it will be possible for both the police and environmental health departments to intervene. Local authorities that become licensing authorities will be able to respond to their local communities, so it really will be up to local councillors—including Liberal Democrat councillors who so vehemently rejected the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, but who are so keen on putting out leaflets to pretend that they did not—to take action on behalf of their local electorate.