Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
We turn now to an area of policy and law that is very different from that of DNA retention, which we have just debated. We shall now discuss provisions to control alcohol licensing and try to address the problems resulting from late-night drinking that many of our communities experience, including the costs borne by the police and local authorities in dealing with binge boozing. The first question to ask is whether there is a problem, and I think that we can all say from the complaints that we receive from our constituents that the answer is yes, and that the costs of dealing with it are increasing.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending an evening on the streets of London with paramedics from the London Ambulance Service's booze bus and officers from the Metropolitan police's clubs and vice unit, whose duty is literally to pick up the pieces resulting from a night of drink-fuelled excess on the streets of the capital. I said that it was a privilege to do this; it was not a privilege to see some of the scenes that I saw that night, but it was a privilege to see the professionalism, dedication and sympathetic approach that those professionals brought to bear when dealing with the problems associated with late-night drinking. I saw some of the physical situations that people-principally, but not exclusively, young people-got into, along with their need for medical help and the crime issues that arose from their behaviour. That was a real reminder of the continuing problems of late-night drinking that affect many of our communities, and of the pressures that are placed on our emergency services into the early hours of the morning.
In the context of our new clause, which proposes the deletion of certain provisions on alcohol disorder zones in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, it is relevant to reflect on the cost of these problems to society as a whole. The continental-style café culture that was promised when the Licensing Act 2003 was introduced was certainly not evident during my time spent in the centre of London, which lasted into the early hours. It is also far from evident in the many communities blighted by drink-related nuisance and violence, and by self-inflicted health issues, especially for those whose night on the tiles ends up being a night on a stretcher in the local accident and emergency department.
I was told during my visit that the London Ambulance Service handled about 60,000 alcohol-related emergency calls last year. I was given the leaflet that is given to every person whom the service assists, which informs them that every 999 call-out to someone who has had one drink too many costs about £200. That figure does not take into account police costs, or the other costs linked to clearing up the mess and dealing with the nuisance directly attributed to binge boozing. There is clearly a financial hangover that all of us are having to bear.
The costs of alcohol to society are becoming ever clearer. Between 2004-05 and 2008-09, the number of finished admissions of patients with an alcohol-related diagnosis increased from 644,000 to 945,000-a rise of about 47 per cent. Alcohol was a factor in almost 42,000 cases of children under 18 being admitted to English hospitals in the past three years, and figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the number of alcohol-related deaths has increased by 47 per cent. since 1997. Young people are drinking twice as much as they did in 1990. Last year, there were 973,000 violent attacks in which the offender was under the influence of alcohol, and 57 per cent. of all assaults involving minor injuries are linked to alcohol.
It is in that context that the Government proposed their solution to the problem: the alcohol disorder zone. That measure was so complicated and unwieldy that it took three years to implement it, and it took three goes at getting the relevant statutory instrument right in order to bring it into law, nearly six months later than the powers were said by No. 10 to have been brought into effect.
What has happened since the alcohol disorder zone regime was introduced? The shadow Home Secretary asked the Home Secretary in a parliamentary question how many alcohol disorder zones had been enforced, and the simple answer was:
"There are currently no Alcohol Disorder Zones (ADZs) in place. ADZs came into force in June 2008 and the Home Office has been clear that an ADZ should only be used as a measure of last resort, after all other tools and powers have been tried."-[ Hansard, 9 February 2010; Vol. 506, c. 905W.]
They are clearly such a measure of last resort that no one has used them at all.
"Although the policy is optional, given its complexity we wonder how many local authorities will actually take it up, and we draw the Regulations to the special attention of the House on the ground that they may imperfectly achieve their policy objectives."
The Local Government Association, representing the councils that were supposed to benefit from this additional measure in their toolkit, stated that it had
"serious misgivings about this policy", and noted that
"ADZs will prove to be a costly, complicated and unwieldy tool for local authorities, particularly the costs involved in preparing and implementing an ADZ and the additional burdens involved in attempting to recover these costs."
The Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services warned that local authorities were
"likely to be open to all sorts of challenges e.g. from challenging the level of intervention tried before considering an ADZ designation; down to challenges over exemptions and discounts. It seems highly unlikely that this piece of legislation will ever be used."
Despite those siren voices, however, the Government carried on regardless.
The reticence to bring in an ADZ is perhaps a reflection of the fear that doing so might make matters worse by increasing the perception of crime and abusive behaviour in an area. The way in which the measure works involves a formal consultation process and the designation of an area as an ADZ. In so doing, it might be felt that attention is being drawn to the fact that it is a problematic area. I can understand the reticence shown by local authorities that do not want to say, "Our area has a problem, and it is an alcohol disorder zone." That might explain the unwillingness to come forward and implement the measure. This should have been taken into account when considering whether the process would be usable.
The risk of displacement must also be taken into account. Once an area has been identified as an alcohol disorder zone, problems could simply be displaced to other areas in an unmanaged way. ADZs could also earn the badge of being a magnet for trouble, and designating an area an ADZ could make matters worse if that happened. There is also an assumption that problems can be confined to one area without properly taking account of problems such as the pre-loading of alcohol. Alcohol that led to troublesome or violent behaviour could well have been consumed in the home or at a different location outside the designated zone in which the problems occurred.
It is also a matter of the associated bureaucracy, as there has to be an assessment of the cost of baseline services in the area in question, which is unlikely to fit neat boundaries. Another problem is the unrecoverability of charges under the preliminary action plan stage that needs to be gone through before a local authority is able to designate an area as an alcohol disorder zone, which it must do before being able to charge licensed premises in that area to meet the costs assessed under the action plan and under the baseline assessment.
If we consider the issues of stigma, bureaucracy and all the costs that local authorities will have to bear in seeking to introduce an ADZ, it is not too surprising that no one has bothered to introduce one. As we pointed out at the time, the reality is that ADZs are unwieldy, unworkable and unwanted. In large measure, they are a back-of-an-envelope solution to a complex problem and simply will not deliver any change to the problem of alcohol-fuelled crime, over which the Government have presided, which occurs principally in the early hours of the morning. We will discuss later other provisions in the Bill that are designed to control licences for the sale of alcohol in the early hours of the morning.
In many ways ADZs have been overtaken by events, leaving huge scope for uncertainty and legal challenge. In my judgment, as I said at the time of their introduction, they represent poor law, which does this House and this Government no credit. The irony is that, apparently, the Government are still considering their use. We have learned that there are road shows going around to remind local authorities of their various powers to control alcohol and of the wonders that are these alcohol disorder zones. There has even been some suggestion that the Government might look to modify the regulations somewhat, by subjecting them to further fine-tuning. Frankly, I think that that is a waste of time and resources on a failed idea. The proposal to tinker with the drafting in the vain hope that it will have councillors beating a path to Marsham street, clamouring to become the first recipient of an ADZ are, in my judgment, somewhat far-fetched. It is simply not going to happen.
Instead, the Government would be better advised to look at a different approach to seeking to recover the hidden costs attributed to the late-night economy. Rather than looking at a zone or geography, they would do better to think about the operating hours themselves. If an off-licence, bar or club wishes to remain open beyond a specific hour, a cost or levy should be attached to that. Equally, in the interest of better government, deregulation and the desire to keep the statute book uncluttered, we believe that it is time for the Government to admit the policy disaster zone that ADZs have always been. That is why we would repeal the relevant sections of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, to which the new clause would give effect.
Amendment 23 covers a slightly different point. The Government are seeking to introduce measures to give local authorities a right to ban licensed premises from opening between 3 am and 6 am. The basis for that approach is in part to cover some of the problems associated with the late-night economy that I have already highlighted. For example, the police are under increasing strain in the small hours of the morning dealing with alcohol-fuelled crime, while the hard-working staff of A and E departments literally have to pick up the pieces of drink-fuelled excess.
The Government have known about those issues for around three years, but until now, they have done absolutely nothing about them. In the Home Office document, "Violent crime, disorder and criminal damage since the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003", which was published in July 2007, rising levels of criminal damage were indicated, with the report stating:
"The number of offences happening between 3.00 am and 6.00 am 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."
The study noted a 22 per cent. increase in all offences committed between 3 am and 6 am. This evidence of offending was also 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 in March 2008. It stated:
"Violent crime occurring in the small hours of the morning has grown".
Until very recently, the Government thought that these problems had absolutely nothing to do with the Licensing Act itself. As recently as January this year, the Home Secretary was quoted as saying that 24-hour licensing was "not the problem". Yet we now have measures in the Bill to stop 24-hour licensing if a local authority considers it necessary for the promotion of the licensing objectives, comprising the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm.
Relevant to this specific amendment was the press release of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport of
"Councils would need to show that the restriction was necessary to prevent crime and disorder or public nuisance or to promote public safety."
The question is, what obligation does this place on councils? Is it to happen if they consider it necessary, or does it need to be demonstrated with objective evidence? Judging from the Minister's response in Committee, certain objective tests would have to be satisfied so that a local authority would have to hit a particular hurdle to be able to introduce these measures in the first place. Given that 24-hour drinking was, apparently, not the problem in the first place and given the issue of whether drinking occurs before the 3 am deadline mentioned in clause 55, it might well be difficult for a local authority to make the necessary demonstration.
Information about the number of outlets open at this time in the morning is also important. When an assessment was made by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in March 2008, it found that about 5,100 premises had 24-hour licences. It then becomes a question of how we break that down in respect of demonstrating the problems that a local authority would need to have in order to meet the hurdles prescribed in the Bill. Of that number, about 3,320 were hotel bars, which have always been able to serve their guests alcohol for 24 hours; 920 were supermarkets and stores; and 470 were pubs, bars or nightclubs. That offers a slightly different flavour and different context to the issue, particularly when the DCMS said of those 470 pubs, bars and nightclubs that had 24-hour licences that "only a handful" operated on that basis. If it is only a handful, and if this legislation is intended to be directed at that handful, it seems that local authorities will have a devil of a job trying to meet the hurdles that appear to be put before them.
If we consider the statutory regulations that might sit behind the Bill should it come into law, we have certainly seen in the past that such regulations have tended to fetter rather than help local authorities in exercising such discretion as they may have in respect of the application of licensing laws. I certainly do not place too much hope in having regulatory guidance in place to sit alongside the Bill that would help to provide the assistance or comfort that local councils or local authorities need to utilise the very power that the Government seem to want to give them ostensibly to assist them in the management of the problems that occur in the small hours of the morning. It comes back to the fact that the problems themselves are likely to have been caused much earlier in the night. Would it not be better to ensure that local authorities have a much stronger ability to set closing times and have the very discretion promised to them when the Licensing Act 2003 was brought into effect?
Through the amendment, we are seeking to be helpful by explaining what discretion might be applied by councils in the utilisation of the Bill's powers. We want to ensure that communities have a stronger say when it comes to licensed premises that are opening in the small hours in their areas.
It is clear from what I have seen on the streets of London and elsewhere that serious problems are involved. The emergency services are being pressed at a time when there may not be enough police officers, paramedics and medical staff on duty to deal with those problems. I think it incumbent on the Government to ensure that this measure is used, otherwise we will be back where we were with alcohol disorder zones. We will end up with a measure that will not make the difference that our constituents want to see by dealing with the binge drinking, and the alcohol-fuelled violence and crime, that blight far too many communities throughout the country.
I hope that the Minister will reflect on the spirit in which the amendment was tabled, and will try to ensure that this power can be used. I must caution him that, as currently drafted, the clause will go the same way as the alcohol disorder zones: a power that was intended to benefit communities and local authorities will never actually be adopted.
Although alcohol misuse was discussed at some length in Committee, I feel that more time should have been devoted to an issue of such importance. I realise that this is a catch-all Bill containing many valuable provisions that require a full airing, not least those that we have discussed today and those on which I hope to speak later, but alcohol misuse is a huge problem.
For most people a social drink is something to be enjoyed moderately as one of life's pleasures, but sadly, for a host of reasons, it is misused by all too many. Alcohol is a substance that can indeed give pleasure, but its potential for harm and damage is phenomenal. In recent years the all-party parliamentary group on alcohol misuse, of which I am vice-chair, has taken evidence from a variety of organisations, which has made clear to us the damage done to individuals and communities.
I fear that alcohol misuse is one of those cultural issues that may be peculiar to northern Europe. We seem to have a fascination with alcohol that goes beyond enjoyment of a pleasurable evening. It represents almost a rite of passage for our young people, although unfortunately in the case of some the rite of passage continues into their forties, fifties and sixties. It appears to be almost compulsory for people to go out in the evenings and drink not just in accordance with their own capacities or even to excess, but way beyond that to a point at which problems arise. Those problems may be social-it may be a case merely of upsetting people-or they may involve violence and acts of wanton criminal damage. There may be incredible violence against other individuals, and it all seems to be fuelled by people's inability to know where their alcohol limits lie.
That is a shame, because the overall rate of crime is falling and, according to the independent crime figures, the chance of becoming a victim of any type of crime is lessening. However, because our television screens are full of programmes showing horrendous alcohol-related acts of violence against property and persons, the perception of crime is still very high and continues to be at the top of most people's agenda. I am sure I speak for all Members when I say that that is made clear to us both in our constituency surgeries and when we are out and about talking to our constituents from day to day. Most people associate the sight of someone on a street corner drinking a can of beer during the day with a heightened fear of crime.
In the context of the Bill and in a wider context, we must recognise that alcohol misuse is a cultural issue. There has been a welcome attempt to introduce, with the best of intentions, a café culture featuring the relaxed attitude that our southern European neighbours seem to adopt. That was an admirable aspiration on the part of the Government, but it should be set against our northern European culture. We know of the history of great halls where people sat around drinking to excess, and when we travel across the water we see that some of our near neighbours have huge problems with alcohol misuse. There is no particular reason for me to pick on poor Norway, but despite its high alcohol prices, it has problems with alcohol misuse. The issue of prices was raised in Committee, but we need only travel the short distance to Norway to see that that approach will not work on its own. We must explore all manner of ways of addressing the cultural issues, which is what the Bill does.
I am sure that we have all seen posters in our communities describing the impact that alcohol misuse can have on individuals. Staffordshire police and Stoke-on-Trent city council have extremely good posters highlighting the ways in which it can affect people, not least the possibility of ending up in a police cell for the night-quite apart from what happens to the victims of alcohol-related crime.
James Brokenshire spoke of his experiences on the streets of London with members of the police and paramedics. Like, I suspect, many other Members, I too have been out with the police, and with what was the West Midlands ambulance service and is now the Staffordshire ambulance service. I have been to the constituency of my good and hon. Friend Mark Fisher.
Hanley is a popular night spot on Friday and Saturday nights and, indeed, at other times, with various pubs, clubs and entertainment venues in and around the city centre. I have observed the work done by paramedics there. In an extremely effective pilot exercise, a MASH-style tent was set up in a car park just outside the city centre. Rather than being taken to the accident and emergency department at University Hospital of North Staffordshire, people who had had too much to drink and had injured themselves-or, more worryingly, had had too much to drink and injured others-could be taken to the tent for treatment.
I was most impressed when I talked to the dedicated people who worked late shifts on Friday and Saturday nights, and saw the work that they did. I was interested to learn from them that things generally did not begin to hot up until 2 am at the earliest. It was at 3 am, they said, that problems really started to come to their attention. Until then, crews were dealing with other issues and getting themselves ready. As I saw for myself, as the night progresses, things go from fairly slow to very busy indeed.
On patrol around the city centre with the Staffordshire constabulary, I saw the problems caused by people coming out of nightclubs. The introduction of staggered times in other parts of the country has proved very effective. For a number of years, members of the police force who asked for it before the change in the legislation have been telling me how welcome it has been. That staggering-if the House will pardon the pun-is better than everyone leaving clubs at the same time.
As we travelled around, the police would point out certain clubs-I will not name names-and say, "This one is particularly well run; there are good door staff, and they make sure things are run properly," or, "This one is less well run; we know we'll be called out to it several times in the night, because there will be problems." As we went around, it became obvious that the police knew their patch intimately. They knew exactly what to expect, particularly on a Friday and Saturday night, and which premises they would have to visit. As we have an excellent police service in Staffordshire-and north Staffordshire-its officers were pro-active. They went out and talked to the door staff, and identified early on where there were going to be problems. Again, however, the police service knew that those problems were likely to escalate from about 3 am onwards-and that was, indeed, the case.
Let me now move from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central to my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent, South. I have been out with the response team there. Again, I travelled around with them in their cars and we were called to incident after incident. I want to pay tribute to all the officers, in particular those from Longton police station. It is one of the busiest police stations in the entire Staffordshire area, and its officers do a marvellous job. Having been out on duty with them, I can attest that the early hours of the morning is the period when the volume of calls goes through the roof, and they find that they are out responding to a stream of incidents. Many of them, especially after 3 am, were alcohol related, as they had told me they would be.
I know we will come on to the issue of domestic violence later, but that is often fuelled by alcohol. Officers know that, come 3 am, they will be called to domestic violence incidents, and they will frequently be at the same addresses. They also know in advance that many of them will have arisen because alcohol has been consumed throughout the evening, which has resulted in things coming to a head early in the morning.
I have also been out with the Operation Sanction van as it tours around the constituency. It is an extremely good operation. It has been run over many months, going out and identifying hot spots where there is drinking-and especially under-age drinking-late into the night that is causing trouble, nuisance and a great deal of distress for constituents. That police operation was extremely good, and very well received by residents.
Turning to the experience of residents, I listened intently to the remarks of James Brokenshire on local authorities' use of the raft of powers at their disposal, such as the designation of an alcohol disorder zone. Local authorities are sometimes hesitant to use these powers, and there is a whole host of reasons for that. It is not necessarily that things are complex. I have seen evidence that Stoke-on-Trent city council was hesitant in respect of using section 13-of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001-notices; it required the police to fill in reams of completely unnecessary paperwork. Fortunately, over time-and with intervention from the then elected mayor, Mark Meredith, working closely with the police and his own departments in the city council-that process was streamlined so that when section 13 notices were required, they could be brought in extremely quickly. The cause of such hesitancy among local authorities is not necessarily that things are bureaucratic or particularly burdensome. Often, they are simply hesitant to use a power until they have used it. That is human nature, of course; until any of us has actually done something for the first time, we are hesitant about doing it.
In terms of late-night drinking, late-night opening and alcohol disorder, there are some interesting proposals on charging organisations. There is an issue in respect of organisations-clubs, bars, pubs or hotels-that are located in areas that might be hit by the proposals, however. Some of them will be extremely well run and will take their responsibilities extremely seriously, but even though they are behaving in a highly commendable fashion and the cause of the problems lies elsewhere, they might be penalised by having to meet charges for policing and pay the local authority. The cause of the problems might be that other pubs or clubs are not so well run and are not taking their responsibilities seriously or, as the hon. Gentleman said, that people have pre-loaded-they have started their night out before they even go out. Some people go to the local off-licence or supermarket and buy in very strong beer and other alcoholic drinks, and then get half-cut before they even step out of the front door. We might stop off-licences and supermarkets selling some of the full-strength beers; perhaps we should allow only pubs to sell beverages of such a high alcohol content. That might have the knock-on effect of getting folks back into the pubs, instead of drinking at home or on street corners, as is, unfortunately, often the case. We also need to look at how to ensure that supermarkets and off-licences share the costs that the pubs, clubs and hotels may well end up having to pay.
In Committee, in response to proposals of mine, Ministers kindly responded on the issue of designated public protection orders. That ties in closely with the alcohol disorder zone issue. In responses in Committee on
I would also like to hear a little about the late-night alcohol licensing limits-closure between 3 and 6 am and the 2009 Act. In situations where a local authority has not sought pubs and clubs to close between 3 and 6 am in a certain area, will the public be allowed to use petitions to require them to seek closure? Another concern that has been raised is that the general public do not feel that their voice is heard, particularly in respect of alcohol misuse and the ability to have premises closed where they feel they are operating without any due respect for the local community in which they operate. I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give me the clarification I seek about designated public protection orders and alcohol misuse, and also about late-night licensing closure orders between 3 and 6 am so that the public feel they have a say on that.
Sadly, the issue of alcohol misuse and the cultural implications of our northern European nature will take a long time to address. We can do a lot through legislation, but a lot of it is also about effecting culture change and changing the idea that people do not have a good night unless they cannot remember it. We need to make sure we address these issues, and I welcome any proposals that add tools to the toolbox of local authorities and the police, to help in addressing this important issue.
I am pleased to follow Mr. Flello, who speaks a lot of good sense on this issue. Let me first deal with amendment 23. The Government's introduction of the new power for local authorities confirms that the Government have failed to get a grip on the culture of binge drinking. I agree with what he has been saying about the fact that doing so is complex, but it is key if we are to deal with the associated crime and disorder, as any of us who have been out on a Friday or Saturday night with our local police force will be able to testify. The new alcohol provisions in the Bill give local authorities the power to impose blanket bans on the sale of alcohol after 3 am, but to do so on the basis of a justification that such a ban is "necessary". The amendment proposed by the Conservatives would change the wording to "desirable", and the Liberal Democrats would have no problem with that. Although there are no longer statutory limits on this under the licensing laws, in theory local authorities-licensing authorities-can curtail hours of sale to prevent crime and disorder, for public safety reasons, to prevent public nuisance and to protect children from harm. This provision is a reinforcement of the powers available to local authorities. We can see that in certain circumstances it might be useful, and we therefore support it.
New clause 3 would, in effect, abolish alcohol disorder zones. It is clear that they were another example of the Government governing by press release without considering what local authorities really wanted or needed to tackle the problems that they face. The fact that no local authority has applied to create an ADZ tells us everything we need to know about the effectiveness of this particular legislation.
Does it not surprise the hon. Gentleman that the Government never held any proper consultation with local authorities in order to discover whether this was a power that they wanted? Does not one usually ask people whether they want a power before one announces that the power is to be given to them?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that in a rational, well-ordered world where Ministers were doing things in the correct way one might well suppose that a consultation process would be a good start to make before the drafting of legislation. However, as he may well have heard me say before, we have had 67 criminal justice Bills and nine immigration Bills since 1997, and 3,400 new criminal offences have been created, and the way in which the Government operate on these matters is to use legislation as a glorified press release, rather than as something that will have a little longer shelf life. The ADZs are another example of that playing to the gallery, and as the Liberal Democrats are very much in favour of removing legislation that is completely unnecessary, we will support new clause 3.
This has been an informative, if short, debate, in which there has been some agreement and some disagreement about whether these proposals deserve the support of the House. First, may I pay tribute to the work of and comments made by my hon. Friend Mr. Flello, who spoke authoritatively this evening, as he did in Committee, in a fair and balanced way? He demonstrated again-as if he needed to-why he is such an assiduous constituency Member of Parliament. He highlighted the problems in his area and pointed out the significance of alcohol in our culture, both negative and positive. He also highlighted the way in which MPs are able to involve themselves in these important matters for their constituents-I am sure that applies to most hon. Members in the Chamber this evening-and see at first hand the problems that prevail.
If the House will allow me, I will answer directly the two points that my hon. Friend made before I deal with the broader points raised by the hon. Members who lead for the Opposition parties in this area. My hon. Friend asked whether the public can influence decisions on late night orders. He may be aware that at the end of January we introduced the right of local councillors to act as interested parties, and nothing would prevent Members of Parliament from acting on behalf of residents in raising these matters.
My hon. Friend asked a specific question about petitions. I am able to confirm that where a petition is presented it could be used as the basis for a designated public place order and that local authorities are required to consider a petition under the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009. I hope that that gives him some reassurance.
I wish now to discuss the wider point. Let me first state that there is a degree of common view-if not unanimity-about the fact that alcohol does create problems in our local communities and that we need to tackle the problems robustly. We need to be tough, but we also need to recognise that no single measure that can be introduced will act as a silver bullet. We have to put into context the powers that have been introduced and how they have been used to date, because the reality is that the level of alcohol-related crime has fallen by a third since 1997. We are not complacent; we are determined to take action to reduce the level of alcohol-related crime and disorder further, particularly when it involves binge drinking and under-age drinking. Of course we want to minimise the violence, antisocial behaviour and health harms that come with the abuse of alcohol, but we also want a balanced approach that allows the law-abiding to go about their business and to enjoy alcohol safely and responsibly. We have introduced a host of measures, including ADZs, that have a role to play, but the reality is that 28 per cent. of the population perceive that alcohol-related disorder is either a fairly big or big problem in their area.
I very much agreed with the Minister's point about the importance of cutting alcohol-related violence. Could he tell the House what the Home Office is doing to ensure greater co-operation between accident and emergency departments and local police forces to give anonymised patient data allowing police forces to do hot-spot intensive policing, which, as we know from the experience in Cardiff and other cities, has cut woundings by 40 per cent? This is a key part of dealing with these alcohol-related problems. Given that just a year ago only one fifth of hospitals were co-operating, what progress has been made?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, because progress is being made. One of the issues that is being addressed right across the country, particularly in crime and disorder partnerships and particularly where the Home Office and the police are working closely with local authorities and agencies, is not only the health risk that alcohol poses, but the way in which health data can be used to inform this process. This approach is playing an increasing part in many more local partnerships' problem solving: they are getting a better grip on what the problem is like in their area and how they measure it. People are realising that although enforcement action is important-that is why the police must always be on the front line on this issue-a number of agencies have a role to play. It is a sad fact that in tackling not only alcohol-related disorder but knife crime it is often the health service that sees things at first hand for the first time; they see the people who have been caught up in these things, both the victims of crime and its perpetrators. I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that what he describes is very much part of the work that is being done on tackling not only knife crime but a range of matters, including alcohol-fuelled violence and disorder.
That brings me to the issue of ADZs. New clause 3 proposes that sections 15 to 20 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 should be repealed. They give local authorities powers, in consultation with the police, to designate in their area an ADZ. To pay for additional policing and other enforcement activities they can impose charges on premises and clubs within the zone that sell or supply alcohol, as specified by the Secretary of State in regulations, and the regulations were introduced in June 2008.
I say to Chris Huhne -we have debated this point many times-that there are, as he knows, no alcohol disorder zones yet. He seeks through his amendment to remove the power to set up alcohol disorder zones because there are none yet. Despite that, they are an important power available to local authorities, and it would not be correct to remove that power.
There have been discussions precisely on that point to ensure that some of the criticisms about bureaucracy made earlier in the debate do not apply. Let me be frank: as James Brokenshire said, local authorities are not seeking to stigmatise their area, and they are certainly not looking to add costs to the evening economy, particularly as many businesses are feeling the squeeze of the recession. However, it would still not be correct to accept the new clause and remove the power to create alcohol disorder zones.
Local authorities and enforcement agencies have a wide range of tools and powers available to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder, and it is up to them which they use. As I said, there is no single power than can be used to address the problem alone. Front-line agencies require a wide range of powers to tackle the problem. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the work of front-line staff and agencies in that regard, and I support his comments. There are many good examples across the country of areas where problems associated with the night-time economy are well managed.
Because alcohol disorder zones are a last resort, and are to be used only when all other avenues of persuading licensed premises to adopt a more responsible approach have failed, I believe that they still have a role. In our discussions with local authorities about why they have not created alcohol disorder zones, they have said that it is precisely the existence of that last resort that has encouraged them to look again at the alternative powers available to them. Therefore, alcohol disorder zones do not have to be introduced in order to have an influence: because they involve cost, they focus people's minds on ensuring that they do everything that they can to tackle the problems in their area. In that regard, the fact that local authorities have not felt the need to use that power of last resort is testament to the good work that is being done in many areas.
I apologise. Clearly I have not explained to the right hon. Gentleman exactly what I am saying. I am not saying that that is the only purpose of alcohol disorder zones. If anyone said, "We intend to set up an alcohol disorder zone because we believe it's necessary to deal with the conditions in our area," we would applaud that. We are saying that not only does the power have a practical purpose-if a zone were introduced, it would raise additional revenue to pay for policing and other measures-but in the 18 months it has been available it has had an influence in many town and cities throughout the country. I do not discount for one minute the possibility that someone may come forward and say, "Having looked at and tried all the available powers, we want to set up an alcohol disorder zone." I cannot say that that will not happen, and the right hon. Gentleman does not say that either.
Local authorities, licensing authorities and the police express an interest in using a full range of powers. The hon. Member for Hornchurch criticises the work that Home Office officials and the police do, day in day out, throughout the country in the areas worst affected by alcohol-related disorder, to decide which powers are most applicable and how to use them better. That may involve explaining that the last resort is an alcohol disorder zone, and if that is something that local authorities should be considering, I am sure that it forms part of the discussions. The hon. Gentleman calls the measure a waste of time, but I can assure him that a number of local authorities, including my own, which at the moment is led by his party, welcome the opportunity to have support from the Home Office and the police in making better use of the powers that are available. I do not accept that it would help us in any way to remove the power to create alcohol disorder zones from the statute book, particularly to go down the route suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the stigma of having an alcohol disorder zone. What about the stigma of an area shown in the newspapers and on the television, and seen by the residents themselves, that has the kind of evening economy that does a disservice to our town and city centres? That has a stigma too, and that is why local authorities should be looking to use every power available.
I turn now to amendment 23. Clause 55 allows local authorities to introduce an order to limit the opening times in their area between 3 am and 6 am. The hon. Gentleman knows that when the Licensing Act 2003 was introduced, the commitment was given to keep the situation under review and, if necessary, to take further action. For the very reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, there is an issue with what happens between 3 am and 6 am. We are taking this measure so that if the emergency services are stretched, or the police are saying that further action should be taken, there is a power to close not one but a number of premises.
It is entirely up to local authorities. If they want to hold it in abeyance while they consider other powers and discuss them with licensed premises, that is entirely a matter for them. I should have thought, from the comments that the hon. Gentleman has made in these debates and elsewhere, that he would see some benefit in giving local authorities discretion. However, the point of amendment 23 is not to give local authorities discretion; it aims to change the nature of the debate. It would lower the threshold that must be met before a licensing authority may decide to make an order. If the amendment were accepted, the discretion of the licensing authority would be broadened and the test would be more subjective and less evidence-based.
Clause 55 was drafted in accordance with the better regulation principles that are central to our policy on regulation. I remind the House that they are: proportionality, which means that regulators should intervene only when necessary, that remedies should be appropriate to the risks posed and that costs should be identified and minimised; accountability, which means that regulators must be able to justify their decisions and be subject to public scrutiny; consistency, which means that rules and standards must be joined up and implemented fairly; transparency, which means that regulators must be open and must keep regulations simple and user-friendly; and targeted, which means that regulations must be focused on an identified problem and minimise side-effects.
Amendment 23 moves us away from those principles in a way that the House would, I believe, find totally unacceptable. The first principle is proportionality. I emphasise the words "only intervene when necessary", because it is the word "necessary" that the hon. Member for Hornchurch asks us to remove from clause 55. I find that surprising, given that as recently as October last year, his party published, with great fanfare, a policy paper outlining the approach to regulation that a Conservative Government would adopt, if elected. The paper was snappily entitled "Regulation in the Post-Bureaucratic Age". It cites the better regulation principles, which I outlined, as the starting point for the policy of Conservative Members. It includes the words:
"Regulators should only intervene when necessary."
I ask the hon. Member for Hornchurch, who seeks to take the word "necessary" out of clause 55, whether that policy no longer applies. Did he not discuss the amendment with Mr. Clarke, who promoted the policy as recently as October, or is this another example of muddle at the heart of Conservative policy making?
I am sorry to intervene again, but I am trying to avoid the temptation to make a speech. What the Minister is saying is that if a local authority thinks that the measure is desirable for its community, it is unreasonable to say that it should be allowed to make so limited a change. That is a very odd view of locality, and of local people being able to make their own decisions.
The right hon. Gentleman should talk to his Front-Bench team about that, because that is precisely what they are seeking to do-to introduce subjectivity, whereas currently, if one seeks to introduce a measure that has such an effect in an area, the need for it must be demonstrated in the evidence that prevails. Let me tell him why that is. The measure is about controlling the problems in an area, but it is also about taking a balanced approach to the night-time economy, because better regulation is important.
Clause 55 is important not just for businesses trading between the hours of 3 am and 6 am, but for the jobs that depend on those businesses. It is important that a licensing authority that goes down the route advocated by Mr. Gummer discusses with the police and other enforcement agencies what the situation actually is between 3 am and 6 am. The decision ought to be necessary, evidence-based, focused on an identified problem, and therefore targeted. It should not be taken lightly, particularly in an area where there are businesses in which, in many cases, hundreds of thousands of pounds have been invested.
Substituting the word "desirable" lowers the threshold. That offends against the principles of better regulation, to which I thought the party of the hon. Member for Hornchurch was committed, as mine is. I therefore hope that he will withdraw the amendment.
Well, we have certainly got the Minister excited on this point. I do not know whether that is the pent-up frustration of not having been involved in some of the previous debates. A lot of better regulation is about giving power back to communities. When the Licensing Act 2003 was introduced, it was supposed to be all about giving power back to local communities, but the Minister has made it very clear that it is actually all about central control, and that local accountability is a lie, because it has to be fettered very firmly by the dead hand of central Government, with the Home Office controlling what happens.
The Minister's comments have highlighted how unworkable the provisions are. In many ways, he has made my case for me, having shown the unlikelihood of local authorities being able to use the powers set out in the Bill because they have been fettered by so much central control.
Can my hon. Friend imagine what the citizens of Tynemouth might think if they were told that it was unsuitable for them to make a change regarding what happens in the early hours of the morning, when they thought it desirable, because the Minister had decided that they had to prove the need for the change objectively? They would say, "If we in our community think it's desirable, we ought to be able to make that decision."
That is the point. I was genuinely trying to make the point sensibly, and not in a partisan way, so that we could try to make the legislation more workable in the spirit of positive opposition. It is interesting that the Government have turned their face against the proposal, and indeed against the very local communities that they claim to represent. It has been a fascinating debate, in terms of the Minister's response. He very much seems to want centralising control over local authorities, which would make the scheme unworkable and ensure that local councils did not have the powers that his Bill seeks to set out. It has been interesting to see how he responded to amendment 23.
Mr. Flello, highlighted his experiences in his constituency and rightly identified the problems with alcohol that affect not just his community but many others. Chris Huhne supported what we said about alcohol disorder zones. We have highlighted the fact that the measure was designed to create a soundbite, rather than a sound basis for dealing with the alcohol-fuelled disorder that affects far too many of our communities across the country.
The Minister accepted that there are problems, but the number of accident and emergency department admissions related to the problems of alcohol has continued to grow over the past few years. It seems clear that the Government's policies have made the situation worse, not better. We believe that there is a much more elegant way of achieving the end of ensuring that contributions are made to the cost of dealing with the late-night economy and late-night drinking: a late-night levy. By contrast, alcohol disorder zones have been a policy disaster zone from start to finish. We believe that there is a better way of dealing with the problem. That is why we would introduce a late-night levy and abolish ADZs, and why we would like to test the opinion of the House on this issue.