§ Order for Second Reading read.9.34 am
§ Dr. Robert Spink (Castle Point)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The raft of law and order measures brought forward by the Government and by various hon. Members through private Members' legislation sends a clear message to the country that this Government are determined to protect innocent people, and to make our streets safer. The Bill will help to do that. It complements the excellent anti-drugs measures promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg) last week, because alcohol abuse often leads to drug abuse. Indeed, the culture and loss of judgment that young people experience when drinking alcohol is often a factor in their first and subsequent use of drugs. The evidence to support that is legion.
I want to tell the House about the wonderful, caring "Bar'n'bus" Christian outreach project, which tries to help young people in south Essex.
§ Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)
My hon. Friend has pointed out that his Bill is valuable and important. Is it not surprising that the Opposition Benches contain only one Labour Member, a Front Bencher, and one Liberal Democrat Member? The remaining Opposition Members are absent. Does not that show, once again, what little interest the Opposition have in valuable law and order measures? We cannot trust Labour or the Liberal Democrats on anything to do with law and order.
§ Dr. Spink
My hon. Friend makes an important point, but I will not follow his line, because my Bill has all-party support. I do not want to put that in jeopardy, because this is an important measure that will help to make the streets safer.
Ian King is one of the key organisers of the Barnabus Christian outreach project. He is closer to the sharp end of the problem on the streets than almost anyone else in this country. He says that the Bill is very much needed and that it will make an important—perhaps the most important—contribution to solving the general malaise that faces our young people on the streets today.
1166 My constituency-wide surveys, through the Castle Point Westminster report, reveal that law and order and safer streets are the top concerns among my constituents. I listened to them and have acted for them in bringing forward this Bill. It will tackle the problem of young people drinking alcohol in public. It will make a real difference to the quality of life for people throughout the country. It will make our streets safer.
At the moment, because of the way that the Licensing Act 1964 is framed, the police may see a group of young people tanking up on cans of lager or bottles of whisky, but there is nothing they can do to prevent it. I am sure that the House will agree that that is complete nonsense. The Bill will give the police the power to stop such drinking. They will be able to step in and confiscate the alcohol before it becomes a cause of trouble, both for the public and for the youngsters. It is a common-sense approach.
The Bill will not turn young people into criminals; it will not give them a record that might blight their future careers—it will simply allow the police to impose a bit of good, old-fashioned discipline to prevent the mischief at source, and to inform the potential miscreants' parents so that they can apply the necessary control.
This Bill is the sort of measure for which the country is yearning. I am sure that it will make a real difference to the health and safety of the young people concerned. Indeed, it will help to keep them out of the criminal justice system. This is a rare opportunity for the House to enact a preventive measure that will, at the same time, strengthen families by putting the control and guidance of young people back where that should be—with their parents and family groups.
I do not suppose that, when the licensing laws were drawn up in 1964, the legislators thought that young people might be able to obtain cans of beer and then hang around in bus shelters or recreation grounds and get drunk. In 1964, young people went to coffee bars. At that time, legislators would have thought that the measures to prevent young people drinking were tight enough. The 1964 Act prohibits young people from drinking in licensed premises and from buying alcoholic drinks, but it does not prohibit them from drinking alcohol in public. Sadly, as we all know, that has become a real problem.
Parents rather than the police should exert control and give guidance to their teenage children, but sometimes they fail to do so. Some youngsters have a drink problem even before they are old enough legally to buy drink—but they are a small minority. The media image of young people is negative, because they are too often portrayed as inconsiderate thugs. But that is certainly not the case in south Essex. The great majority of young people are good, caring, enthusiastic, thoughtful and courageous. Of course, they are at times boisterous, and that is natural. Their energies need to be properly channelled, and I shall address that later.
When youngsters get hold of alcohol, they get drunk, and they can make people's lives a misery. They also damage their own lives and commit offences when drunk that they would not dream of committing when sober. They can be drawn into vandalism, and may engage in all sorts of petty crime. They can be abusive to passers-by; a drunken 14 or 15-year-old can be just as intimidating as an older person, particularly to elderly constituents.
1167 Drunken youngsters can be a danger to themselves as well as to other people. They may get into fights and become involved in serious crime and fall prey to criminals. Some of them steal cars and engage in so-called joy riding, which can endanger their own lives and those of others. As we all know, that results in deaths every year. In my constituency, some youngsters indulge in bad behaviour as a result of drinking alcohol in public. They have terrorised some neighbourhoods, and the police have been able only to move them on to new areas, where they continue to be a nuisance.
Such young people cause problems for our churches, add costs to business, and cause misery to those who experience their inconsiderate and sometimes criminal behaviour. I shall give some examples. On 3 January, the Evening Echo (Southend and Basildon) stated:Under age drinkers in South East Essex are turning to the strongest alcohol they can get for an instant hit … P. C. Michael Grout, Southend's Licensing Officer, said 'We have had a number of children taken to hospital to have their stomachs pumped.'Constable Andy Ford of Basildon's licensing office, who is greatly supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), who backs my Bill, reported a similar situation when he said that under-age drinking was an increasing problem.
On 9 January, the Evening Echo (Southend and Basildon) performed a public service by highlighting the fact that a quarter of 13 to 17-year-olds get into arguments or fights after drinking. That is an important statistic. The newspaper reported two incidents on 14 January in Rayleigh which the police believe were related to under-age drinking. In the first incident, a 17-year-old student was slashed across the back of the head with a beer bottle and needed 25 stitches. At the same time, a second teenager, 16-year-old student, had two of his front teeth smashed and his nose broken. There have been even worse examples of violence in Essex.
Under-age drinking is a problem not just in Essex but throughout the country, and many of my hon. Friends will speak about what happens in their constituencies, because they care enough to be present for the debate and to support me. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) mentioned that. I thank in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt) for his support for the Bill. He has made me aware of evidence from Merseyside police, who have found a clear link between under-age drinking and youth disorder, both of which they say are on the increase in Merseyside as elsewhere.
In West Yorkshire, Divisional Commander Med Hughes spelled out the problem when he said:Drinking alcohol under age leads to all sorts of problems … a minority are getting alcohol … and are behaving in an appalling manner which often leads to violence and vandalism … young people who have been drinking are vulnerable. They are at risk of being involved in road accidents, or falling prey to criminals.While I am dealing with West Yorkshire, I should like to congratulate the Keighley News on its magnificent campaign to protect the community and help its young people, particularly to avoid drug and alcohol abuse. I know that many local newspapers follow the fine example that has been set by the Keighley News in its action of community spirit.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
Does my hon. Friend agree that many elderly people out in the early evening or 1168 at night feel intimidated by large groups of young people, and that that problem is greatly exacerbated when the young people have been drinking? Elderly people are fearful of going anywhere near them.
§ Dr. Spink
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which I shall expand by giving another example of the intimidation that he has highlighted and about which all hon. Members get letters.
Inspector Martin Stephen has talked about such intimidation in Eastbourne and has run several police operations to combat under-age drinking, because that sort of behaviour has resulted in a flood of complaints, not just from elderly residents but from holidaymakers. They have complained about young people drinking and causing trouble on the seafront, where people like to promenade and enjoy themselves.
The Eastbourne Gazette reported that a number of juveniles have already been arrested, and there have also been incidents of vandalism, theft and harassment, and of young people hurling abuse at passers-by. No doubt much such abuse was directed at the elderly. As my hon. Friend the Member for hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) has said, the elderly feel especially vulnerable.
My Bill seeks to address the problem of youngsters who are under the influence of alcohol in a public place. Inspector Stephen also said:We are not being killjoys, but there is a big problem with young people drinking and breaking the law.In a letter to me on 16 December, Inspector Stephens stated:Over the years I have run several Police operations to combat this problem which is most relevant in this area during the summer months, along the seafront promenades. These efforts have been hampered by the lack of legislation to support positive Police action. Your bill in my opinion will go a long way in tackling this area of public concern.We must listen to the police officers who have to deal with the problem on the streets on behalf of society at large.
§ Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on his most important Bill. Does he agree that another group of people feel vulnerable when faced with these drunken louts? I refer to women travelling alone on trains. I have felt intimidated by bunches of raucous young people boarding the train, swilling their drink and throwing it across the floor. I hope that police powers will extend to trains.
§ Dr. Spink
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Police powers will extend to public transport. In south-east Essex, people using public transport have suffered precisely the problem that my hon. Friend highlights.
Some people say that we should use the model byelaw which has been taken up by about 40 councils, which prohibits the consumption of alcohol in public by anyone of any age. I am sorry to say that that law would be inappropriate in seaside areas such as Eastbourne. In any event, the problem is specifically associated with under-age drinking in public. Those who are over the age of 18 can drink in pubs, and hon. Members will be delighted to hear that I am not planning to legislate against that.
1169 Lloyd Girling of Burkhill is one of many who have written to me in support of the measure. His letter states:The relationship between alcohol misuse in young people and crime is well documented and although the cost to the nation is considerable, the cost, however, to young people themselves, their families and their communities is incalculable.Those are wise words. Mr. Girling goes on to speak about the negative impact of under-age drinking on the fabric of our society, and states that children as young as 11 are involved. I have a surprise for him. Children even younger than 11 are involved. The House must act now to protect those young children by supporting the Bill.
On 17 December 1996, commenting in The Daily Telegraph on schoolboys and girls indulging in drinking binges, Sergeant Geoff Elms of Cleveland police said:The girls tended to be about 14 and just hanging around darkened corners they are making themselves vulnerable.The fact that they are drinking means they will not be fully in control and therefore at even greater risk.In one instance we found nearly 80 youngsters in a school field drinking. The youngest boy we came across was just nine.Nine years old, and this little boy was legally drinking alcohol in public. Clearly we must now act to stop such nonsense.
My final example, and one of the most important, takes me to Dorset. In promoting the Bill, I have been particularly influenced by Weymouth police's excellent and pioneering initiative, which is supported by the Dorset Evening Echo and is known as the "Do you know where your children are?" campaign. It was initiated by Sergeant Bernie Macey, whom I congratulate, and has been successful and well received, locally and nationally. The Home Secretary, who helped last year to launch the Bill for me, visited the campaign and gives it his support.
Of the 139 children who were apprehended last year, only eight came to the police's attention on a second occasion. That tells us something. It shows clearly that, after their parents had been informed, they dealt with the situation. That shows that parents do care and will act to control their children—or, at least, most do—and I welcome that fact. That is why it is right that the Bill should include the provision for police to take names and addresses of under-age drinkers and to report the matter directly to a youngster's parents. That brings me to the Bill's provisions.
The Bill gives police the power to confiscate alcohol or a drink that appears to be alcohol, where there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person is under the age of 18, and is in a public place or a place to which he has unlawfully gained access. Police would therefore be able to use the power if a group of youngsters were trespassing on private property such as school grounds, empty derelict property or any place to which the public or any section of the public had access at the material time, on payment or otherwise, either by way of right, or by virtue of express or implied permission.
The police will also have the power to confiscate alcohol from people who are aged 18 or over in such a place, if there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person has made alcohol available to someone in his company who is under the age of 18 or is likely to do so.
The Bill also gives the police the power to require the person in possession of the alcohol to state his name and address. That person's refusal either to surrender the alcohol or to provide the police with his name and address 1170 is an arrestable offence, punishable by a fine not exceeding level 2 on the standard scale, which I believe is currently £500.
The Bill applies to England and Wales but not to Scotland, where a similar measure is included in the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill, or Northern Ireland, although we are considering that matter carefully. It may be appropriate to extend the Bill to Northern Ireland, which could be achieved by an amendment in Committee or in another place.
Before the Bill was drawn up, the Home Office consulted interested parties on the measures. They included the police, health organisations and interest groups, the licensed trade and local councils. As one might expect, the proposals received widespread support, including from the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Federation, the British Medical Association and Alcohol Concern, which do such good work. Local councils came out heavily in favour of proposals. It was interesting to note that the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations and the Society of Independent Brewers made no objections.
Practical difficulties that the Bill will impose on the police are not now, I trust, a cause for great concern. For many years, the police and society have had to deal with the difficulty of judging whether someone is 18. It has not caused any overriding problem. In any event, in mixed age groups where alcohol might be shared, all that alcohol will be liable to be confiscated.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
As my hon. Friend will appreciate, my life has been based on being somewhat vertically challenged. I have no doubt that, in any such mixed group, until I was about the age of 25, if not later, I would have been regarded by the police as probably under 18. Is he sure that, in those circumstances, we wish to introduce a power to enable the police to judge purely by external appearance whether they should remove private property from someone?
§ Dr. Spink
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to go further into this problem. Of course, I would advise him to take up the Portman Group's "proof of age" identity card scheme for young persons over the age of 18. I personally want an identity card system, either voluntary or otherwise, which would be a good measure.
In any event, the police we are talking about are generally police on the street. They know who their youngsters are. They meet them and come across them regularly. They know who is abusing alcohol and who is getting up to a little mischief here and there. They are sensible and streetwise, not unwise and sitting behind desks. They have their ways and means of deciding how old someone is. If they make a mistake, it errs on the safe side. It prevents that youngster—perhaps my hon. Friend—from drinking alcohol when the policeman has gone, getting into trouble and ending up with a criminal record, which would have barred my hon. Friend from coming to this place.
The fact that the Bill does not give the power of search on the street is a great strength. It is right not to give the police such a power in these circumstances, because it could cause unseemly confrontations if youngsters decided, as they sometimes might, to act up in front of 1171 their friends. We have widened the Bill to enable non-uniformed officers to use its powers, and we have taken trouble to define a public place carefully, so that problems such as those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) are avoided.
Those questions are important, but the benefits offered by the Bill far outweigh the slight practical difficulties. The Portman Group, which represents the drinks industry, said:Abuse of alcohol by under-18s can lead to problems at home and school and to threatening behaviour in public. It can also lead to health problems for young people.But whilst the law bans the sale of alcohol to under-18s, there is clearly a minority that misuses it, often with distressing results.The Portman Group's particular concern, expressed to me, was to stress that no single measure would, like a panacea, remove all alcohol abuse problems in society. Of course I and all of us here accept that. It is simply common sense. Crime, alcohol abuse and other problems associated with youths must be tackled in a variety of ways. For instance, we need more closed circuit television and better controls at the point of sale of alcohol. The Portman Group's "proof of age" identity card scheme has helped in that respect. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) will consider it.
In the seven years since it was introduced, the card has been issued to about 250,000 people over the age of 18. I congratulate the Portman Group on that scheme, and I hope that ways can be found to promote its more widespread use. One way would be to consider the example given by licensing authorities in Glasgow, which makes it compulsory for retailers who want a licence to take up the scheme. That has been successful. There has been a 600 per cent. increase in the scheme's take-up by young persons. All licensing authorities should consider doing that, although, if they did, the Portman Group might be looking for sources of funding to finance it. No doubt we will hear from it about that.
We need more street policing. I have yet to see a replacement for the bobby on the beat. My Bill will help to make him more effective. We need to support and promote parental control, and my Bill will help to achieve that as well. Those are active, interventionist measures, but there are other passive measures that society could and should take.
We should provide better education for our children, and, indeed, their parents, on the use of alcohol. Children's knowledge of alcohol should be developed in the family setting, as it is in France and other Mediterranean countries. That would help to avoid the problem of children suddenly bingeing behind the bicycle shed or in the recreation park when they get to a certain age. We should tackle truancy. We need better lighting targeted at streets and public areas, including the darkened street corners, where, as Sergeant Elms of Cleveland police said, 14-year-old girls stand drinking. We must remove graffiti immediately.
A more responsible attitude should be taken by brewers and advertisers who try to sell our children alcopops and other superficially nice but fundamentally nasty substances. They are obviously targeted at our young 1172 people. Alcopops include alcoholic lemonade and colas, as well as the infamous home brew kits. The industry must tackle that nasty trade, or the House will introduce strict regulations to protect young people. I trust that the industry will take that warning seriously.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans
Has my hon. Friend seen the reports in this morning's newspapers about three particular drinks that may attract youngsters? The makers of those drinks are violating a voluntary code. I shall just mention two of the names—Purple Passion and TNT Liquid Dynamite. Their very packaging and the advertisements for them may attract young people to experiment with those alcoholic drinks.
§ Dr. Spink
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. A selling point of the one that he did not mention is the claim that the drink is "dangerously drinkable". We do not want dangerously drinkable substances to be pushed at our children through marketing and clever packaging. The House will have to act if the industry does not get its act together.
Even more important than all the measures in the Bill, we need to provide better youth facilities—alternatives that are exciting and available to all youngsters. That means alternatives which are not school-based. Such facilities should include sports centres, bowling alleys, cinemas, youth clubs and dance venues.
We must recognise and promote the excellent work that is already carried out by many adults who give up their time to help our youth at sports clubs and football clubs as well as through uniformed organisations such as the Air Training Corps, the scouts and the sea cadets. We need to provide more recreational sports and social activities for our youngsters. They must offer a real challenge to them. In the meantime, we need to protect our children as best we can, and that is why the Bill must be introduced without delay.
In Castle Point, a former mayor, Peggy Grant, helped to establish a youth forum of which she is now president to promote more facilities for our young people. I congratulate Peggy and subsequent mayors of Castle Point on continuing that initiative and providing more youth facilities. So far, Canvey Island has benefited and the council now needs to deliver facilities for Benfleet and Hadleigh. It has my entire support.
Nationally, the Prime Minister has promoted a new youth honours system to provide encouragement and reward for our youngsters. I also welcome the possibility of expanding the scope of the cadet forces scheme. That gives youngsters respect and responsibility, as well as fostering discipline and self-confidence. I pay tribute to the excellent cadet forces in Castle Point, Basildon, Southend, West and other areas of Essex—they do an excellent job.
We must not forget the contribution of the national lottery, which is providing massive funding for young people. I shall cite just two of the many examples of the help it has provided in Castle Point. It has given £46,364 for the Castle Point brass band and £200,000 for the Deanes sports hall. Those are just two examples of what has been achieved as a result of successful Conservative policy, which was opposed by the socialists. It is, however, delivering real benefits for Castle Point's youngsters and many other people as well.
1173 I Congratulate the Government on providing two new sixth forms for Castle Point. Education facilities are the most important facilities that we can provide for our youngsters. They are much more important than drop-in centres, bowling alleys or anything else. All the more shameful, then, that local Labour councillors in Castle Point tried to stop the provision of those new facilities for our youngsters.
For the past five years, I made the provision of such facilities for my youngsters a personal crusade. Hon. Members are fed up of hearing me talk about the new sixth forms for Benfleet and Canvey Island. [HON. MEMBERS: "Not at all."] I am grateful to my right hon. and hon. Friends for their encouragement. I assure them that I will not have to crack on about those facilities in the future, because the Government have now made them available, despite the opposition of Labour local councillors.
Overall, I believe that the measures in the Bill will provide a strong disincentive to youngsters to start drinking in public, because they will know that they will not get away with it. They will know that, if they do drink in public, they will be wasting their money. As one 14-year-old young man told me on the streets of Benfleet at 10.30 last Friday night, if his dad found out he had been drinking, severe action would follow to control his behaviour. Make no mistake, under my Bill his dad would find out, and that 14-year-old youngster and many more constituents might be saved a lot of trouble as a result.
This is not a killjoy Bill. I enjoy the occasional glass of wine. It is a discretionary measure. I emphasise that it will not be the duty of the police to confiscate alcohol in any circumstances. Police officers would not be expected to seize alcohol from a family having a picnic if a youngster had a sip of alcohol from one of the glasses.
The Bill is a measure that the police can use with common sense, integrity and good will, and within the guidelines, to prevent under-age drinking when it seems set to become a problem. Its effect is therefore preventative, because it gives the police the power to remove the offending alcohol before youths come under its influence, make misjudgments and put themselves and the public at risk. It is an absurdity that the police cannot act now to do that, in order to cut crime and help our communities and our children.
The fact that the police will generally be expected to take the names and addresses of young people drinking alcohol in public and subsequently write to their parents about that is a great strength of the Bill. It puts control and the guidance of teenagers back where it belongs, with families, not with the police.
§ Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)
My hon. Friend refers to the guidelines, but they are not mentioned in the Bill. Does he expect the Home Office to issue guidelines at some point?
§ Dr. Spink
Those guidelines will be explained in detail in Committee. They are basically those that I have set out, which my hon. Friend the Minister will outline. They will be fully explained in Committee, which is one reason why my Bill will go to Committee—which I am sure you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will be pleased to hear.
If the alcohol drunk by young people is not given up when they are questioned by the police or false details are given, the police will have the power to arrest without 1174 warrant. They will take those youngsters to the police station. In those circumstances, they usually become very sensible very quickly, especially when their dads turn up to collect them. That power will avoid any street confrontation between youths and the police. We are all in favour of that.
This common-sense Bill will help to make our streets safer for young and old alike. It will keep teenagers out of trouble, and will therefore save the police and the courts time and money. It will reinforce parental responsibility. That is why the Bill has all-party support, which I greatly welcome, and why it would be unthinkable for anyone to oppose it. I commend it to the House.
§ 10.8 am
§ Mr. David Hunt (Wirral, West)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink), not only on introducing a much-needed Bill, but on making one of the best speeches that I have heard in a Second Reading debate on a private Member's Bill. He has put his case clearly, simply, and cogently, and he has comprehensively covered the reasons why the Bill is needed. I have no doubt that today marks a very important stage in the partnership between Parliament and the police.
I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point for responding to a problem in my own constituency, about which the police wrote to me just before the ballot on private Members' Bills. In my 20 years in the House, I cannot recall an occasion on which a senior police officer has written to me to ask me to introduce legislation. In November, however, Chief Inspector Garnett, the operations manager of Merseyside police, based in Wallasey, wrote to me. He said:Dear Mr. Hunt,You may be aware that I am researching problems associated with drinking in public places, particularly amongst the young people on Wirral. The recent coverage given to this subject by the Wirral News Group and in the National Press has highlighted that it exists, not only on Wirral, but elsewhere in the Country…My purpose in writing to you is to seek your views on whether you would be prepared to sponsor a Bill and monitor it through Parliament … it would go some considerable way in helping to solve some of the Youth Disorder incidents now faced by many Police Forces".As it was the first occasion on which I was able to enter the ballot for many years, the House can imagine my disappointment when the ballot was held for private Members' Bills and I lost. However, in the ballot, I noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point had come in fourth, and I immediately made approaches to him on the matter. To my delight, he took up the cudgels on behalf of my local police, and I cannot thank him enough for enabling me to respond so positively to their concerns.
The background to the matter goes much wider than that, however, because we have had a series of meetings in Wirral, which have been conducted by the Merseyside police authority. On 15 May 1996, we had one such meeting—at the Holy Trinity school, in Hoylake—with the Wallasey and Hoylake police and community forum. The minutes of the meeting show that it was dominated by the issue of youth disorder, and particularly by disorder associated with under-age drinking. Problems were experienced in the Kings Gap, which is just round the corner from my home, in Kale close, and in other key 1175 areas, including West Kirby. The extent of the problem demonstrates the need to pass new measures, such as those in the Bill.
Action is required elsewhere in Wirral. My good friend and colleague Les Byrom—the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate in the Wirral, South by-election, who I hope will soon be joining us on the Government Benches—shares my belief that the problem of under-age drinking in public places is one of several law-and-order issues on which action must be taken, and that a closer, stronger and more positive partnership is required between the public, police and Parliament. Les Byrom has already told me how delighted he is that the Bill is receiving such strong support, not only across the political spectrum but from many people across Wirral.
The problem of under-age drinking has become very serious in the Woodchurch estate in my constituency. I became aware of the problem in August, through correspondence with my constituents in The Meadow, which is part of the estate. One local resident wrote ofthe numerous problems we are having regarding the youths who congregate on The Meadow.The youths who are aged between 13–18 use the area adjacent to my property as a local meeting area for drinking and"—sadly—drug abuse.Soon after I received that letter, I was able to attend a meeting of all interested parties on the estate—including the excellent staff of the Woodchurch Young Persons project, other local representatives and police—and I was asked to approach the local authority to discover whether a byelaw banning under-age drinking could be introduced. After I approached the Home Secretary and my local council, however, I became aware that we required more than a byelaw, as a byelaw cannot identify a particular age group but must apply to all local people. It therefore could not single out those under 18. That limitation has reinforced my view—which is shared by the Woodchurch Residents and Tenants Association and the Woodchurch Community Association—that primary legislation is required.
Fridays in the House are always interesting, because we often deal with private Members' Bills that express good notions which one should like to support, although there is often very little time to make progress on them. I could not be more delighted that today we will deal with two Bills—this Bill and the Road Traffic Reduction Bill; the first two Bills on today's Order Paper—that I very strongly support. However, I believe that this Bill is more immediately relevant to our problems. Road traffic reduction is a more difficult problem and will require much more time to deal with, whereas the problem of under-age drinking can be dealt with immediately.
I again congratulate my hon. Friend on his marvellous speech. Until I became aware this year of the extent of the problems in my constituency, I had not realised—which is my fault—that it is not an offence under current legislation for a person under 18 to drink alcohol, whether in public or in private, or for an adult to buy alcohol for someone under 18 to drink away from unlicensed premises. The gap in the law is another good reason why we so strongly support the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point.
1176 My hon. Friend has told us that the Bill's purpose is to introduce preventive measures, which is what the issue is all about. I especially support him on his point about reinforcing parental responsibility. The Conservative party is all about opportunity and choice, particularly for parents, whereas from other parties we hear too much about rights and too little about responsibilities.
The Bill gives us an opportunity to remind parents that they have considerable responsibilities for their children and teenagers. It is a common-sense measure that will not only help to make our streets safer for young and old people alike, but will keep teenagers out of trouble by placing the primary emphasis on alerting parents to the problem.
The Bill will permit police to confiscate alcohol held in public for use by young persons, and establishes the right to take names and addresses so that police can write to young people's parents, thereby placing control and guidance of teenagers where it belongs—with families and parents—and not with police. Particularly in key areas of our constituencies, police have enough to do without having to tackle the problem of under-age drinking. Parents have the primary duty and responsibility of dealing with the problem.
The Bill also contains no powers of search on the street, which I welcome. The absence of such powers could be controversial, but I believe that the way in which my hon. Friend explained the matter makes it clear that it is right and appropriate not to have them. If a power to search were in the Bill, unseemly confrontations could develop between police and youngsters who like to show off in front of their peers.
Under the Bill, if the alcohol is not given up, or if false details are given, the police will have the power of arrest without warrant and can take the youngsters straight to the police station—where, as my hon. Friend pointed out, they usually become sensible very quickly, especially when their parents turn up. I hope that that power, together with the increasing community dimension to policing, means that we will be able to tackle the problem positively.
I greatly welcome the way in which the police are becoming more involved in their local communities. In many parts of my constituency, we are at last seeing more police on the beat, which I also welcome. For too long, we have been denied more policing in Wirral because of the over-emphasis on policing Liverpool, especially the inner-city areas. However, I know that the chief constable is aware, from what fellow Wirral Members of Parliament and I have told him, that there is a need for more bobbies on the beat.
I am arguing that the police funding formula needs to be improved to enable more resources to be channelled into the Merseyside police force. I realise that that is a debate for another day, but I flag it up to show that it is a matter of serious concern to Merseyside Members. Provided we have adequate resources, there is no substitute for police being able to get involved in their local communities. I welcome not only the police and community forum in my constituency but the extent to which our local community police are getting involved in local community organisations. That can only be for the good.
The Bill is much needed, and I wish it a speedy passage. It will do a great deal to improve co-operation between the police and the public. It has identified a 1177 problem and will enable it to be dealt with quickly. I cannot thank my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point enough for the speed with which he is attempting to tackle that problem.
§ Mr. Chris Davies (Littleborough and Saddleworth)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) on introducing the Bill, which I welcome. It is clearly well intentioned.
Like every Member of Parliament, I hear complaints from constituents about the behaviour of youths, often associated with drinking. I am thinking especially of the complaints made by pensioners in the village of Uppermill about youths who drink on the George V playing fields, but similar problems arise elsewhere in my constituency and across the country.
Youth behaviour is known to be one of the biggest causes of complaints to the police from the public. Raucous, drunken behaviour by groups of youths increases the fear of crime experienced by many of our constituents, and, of course, the fact that alcohol is often involved increases the likelihood that there will be a propensity to violence or to destructive acts.
It is clearly illogical that it should be an offence for someone under the age of 18 to purchase alcohol but not for him to drink it in public. I therefore welcome the Bill. Having said that, however, I must issue words of caution. The Bill should bear the health warning "Handle with care".
We have heard much about alcohol misuse by young people. I am pleased that hon. Members set the right moral tone. Of course no hon. Member speaking in this debate ever drank before he was 18—except me. Like almost every young person, I admit to having been intoxicated a number of times before my 18th birthday, although, in my defence, not at the age of nine—which was the case in one incident that we heard about today—but 16, and not, I think, in public but in the safety of private homes on a Saturday night.
§ Mr. Davies
I accept that, but someone—perhaps me in the case to which I was referring—presumably committed an illegal act in procuring the alcohol, knowing that it was to be consumed by someone under 18. If I have misunderstood, I shall no doubt be corrected.
For many young people, drinking alcohol is one of the rites of passage on the way to adulthood. All aspects of adolescence are difficult. Every parent knows that, and I would not wish to be an adolescent again for love or money. Adolescents are too old to go to organised youth clubs—if there are any—but too young to go to the pub, especially if, like the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern), one looks too young even at 20 or 21 to go into one without clasping a birth certificate as a safety precaution.
Where are young people supposed to go? How are they supposed to enjoy themselves? We are not providing any real solutions, but the Bill states what they must not do, which is disrupt the lives of other citizens by raucous or drunken behaviour in public.
We expect the police to deal with any problems. One of the most interesting aspects of my work since being elected to the House is my involvement with the 1178 police in my community and the knowledge that I have gained of the way in which they operate. I have come to admire them hugely at all levels.
It is important that we recognise that, to most ordinary people, the role of the police is not simply to curb crime but to maintain order and tranquillity. I pay tribute to one area constable, Jim Hodgkinson, in Milnrow and Newhey in the borough of Rochdale, who has worked hard with young people, some of whom were getting into trouble and giving rise to complaints from local residents. He helped them set up a youth council, which is now working to establish a drop-in centre.
It is certainly a contrast to some recent debates on the Crime (Sentences) Bill, when so much attention was devoted to the need for harsher sentences, to find that much ordinary police work in fact involves setting up youth councils rather than catching criminals, who are the demon figures most often portrayed in the House.
In public places, it is the police who most often interact with young people. The ordinary peaceful citizen may cross the road or take a different route to avoid passing a gathering of youths. The police's task is bound to be immensely difficult. Meeting public concerns without alienating the young people whose adolescent behaviour may be poor but who are basically good is the challenge facing the police. There is a danger that, in the hands of the wrong sort of policeman—perhaps an inexperienced officer or someone who comes from a different area and does not know the locality or the kids involved—the powers provided in the Bill might make things worse. The reality is that they will more often be ignored than acted on.
After all, what is a police officer supposed to do if he approaches a group of 10 lads sitting on a park bench? Perhaps they have been drinking double-strength cider which they purchased from the local supermarket. They have probably had a few drinks already, and the bottles and cans might be scattered around them. Will the officer have the power to get the lads to clean up the mess which, the following morning, is as much a cause of complaint as the drinking itself? That power is not included in the Bill, and he will not have evidence of any one individual being responsible for the mess. Will he have the power to force the young people to put the bottles and cans in the bin? I do not see that provision in the Bill, either.
What, then, is the officer to do? Does he get the 10 youngsters to hand over the bottles? Does he put his fingers in the top of the bottles and set off to look for a litter bin, with the bottles hanging from his fingers like a bunch of bananas? I can almost hear the raucous jeers behind him as he does so. Of course he will not put himself in that situation; it would compromise his dignity and lessen the sense of authority that he conveys. What if he cannot find a litter bin? Is he to walk up the high street clutching those bottles in front of the rest of the citizenry?
I suggest to the House that that the police officer will not do any of those things. In reality, he is much more likely to go up and say, "Lads, we've had some complaints about you. I am going to walk away now. I'm going to come back in five minutes and I don't expect to find you here—and get rid of the bottles on the way." He will not use the powers that would be available to him in the Bill because it would simply make him look ridiculous and would undermine the authority of the police. He might take the names and addresses of those involved, 1179 which is a very effective way of dealing with such situations. In Oldham, that is already standard practice, so I assume that the police have the moral authority—if they do not have the legal powers—that seems to ensure that names and addresses are handed over freely by the young people involved.
During the campaign for the by-election that brought me to the House, one gentleman said to me, "I'll vote for you, Mr. Davies, if you can do something about the youths who are causing such a mess in the park every night." I replied, "If someone introduces a Bill that will put an end to yobbish behaviour, I'll vote for it." Sadly, life is not that easy.
The Bill attempts to curb aspects of yobbish behaviour, and I welcome it for its intention. I support it because it gives an extra bit of armoury to the police, a bit of extra legal authority, although that authority is rarely likely to be used. In practice, however, I do not believe that the Bill will do much more than good policing already does, and we should not pretend it will.
§ Mr. Nick Hawkins (Blackpool, South)
I am very pleased and proud to have the opportunity for the second Friday morning in a row to congratulate one of my hon. Friends on introducing an enormously important law and order measure. On this occasion, I most warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) on this exceptionally important measure.
Last week, we were dealing with the misuse of drugs in places with public entertainment licences; this week, we are dealing with under-age drinking on the streets, and I shall concentrate this morning on the success of clamp-down campaigns. Even before this most important Bill was introduced, local authorities have taken steps to control this difficult social problem.
I spent the first few years of my professional career as a practising barrister in the midlands. There was no doubt that the misuse of both alcohol and drugs, especially by young men and young women, was one of the most serious social problems. It provided a very large part of the enormous increase in the workload of the courts, and the strains on the police and the prisons.
More recently, some local authorities, as my hon. Friend briefly mentioned in his excellent opening speech, have taken steps to try to control drinking in public places. I think that the first city to pioneer this in a major way was Coventry. It so happens that, during my early years practising at the Bar, I lived in Coventry, and I saw the extent of the problem that much of the drinking in the streets of the city centre was causing.
Coventry suffered enormously from bombing by the Luftwaffe during the war. When the city authorities rebuilt the city centre, they provided very large pedestrianised areas, which were, of course, extremely attractive for shoppers. Coventry city centre was regarded in the 1950s and 1960s as a showplace, but, with so many pedestrianised areas, drinking in the streets was becoming an exceptionally serious social problem. When the byelaw was introduced, the citizens of Coventry noticed a huge difference. That byelaw, as my hon. Friend mentioned, 1180 has since been copied by many other towns throughout the land. Unfortunately, the police had no legal powers to confiscate the alcohol that was being consumed by those under 18. My hon. Friend's Bill will correct that tremendously difficult lacuna in the law.
I am well aware of the serious problem in parts of the country of the lack of facilities for under-18s. I warmly congratulate some of our big national companies that have been willing to support, sometimes in quite substantial financial sums, efforts by local communities to provide facilities for the under 18s. The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Davies) said that he would not like to be an adolescent again, because people under the age of 18 sometimes regard themselves as too old for organised youth clubs, if there are any, but too young to go lawfully into a pub.
I recently worked with Councillor John Saunders and a number of other concerned people, and we received support from Shell, one of the major oil companies, in the provision of a new youth club to correct a particular problem whereby young people were hanging about the streets, with not enough to do, with the potential for noise and damage. I have no doubt that under-age drinking played a part in that.
It is important that all of us in the House who care about this problem should praise the major companies that are prepared to work with local communities and the police to provide facilities. There is no doubt that the police, as my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, very much welcome the proposals in the Bill. I should like in particular to expand on the point mentioned by my hon. Friend about the campaign that began in Weymouth: "Do you know where your children are?" I would encourage every police force in the country to go forward from the provisions in the Bill and have a similar campaign in every area.
It seems that, with every week that passes, yet another tragic youngster is headline news—on the television, the radio and in the newspapers—and that another youngster has disappeared. Sometimes they are as young as eight, but their parents just allowed them to wander off from home. Sometimes they have gone to the chip shop. Sometimes they have gone to buy a newspaper. Sometimes, I am sad to say, they have gone out to join up with other groups of youngsters, to hang around on street corners and drink. In any event, they are the vulnerable ones, because their parents do not look after them, or, if they are unfortunate enough to be in local authority care, because the care homes do not have a proper curfew system.
In my constituency, I have had considerable problems with a care home in a residential area. Local residents had their lives constantly disrupted by the bad behaviour of youngsters who were simply allowed to roam the streets because there was no proper curfew system. There was vandalism and criminal damage right across the area. The police were being called to the street where the residential care home is situated, sometimes several times in a single night.
On another occasion, because of the disruptive behaviour of children from that care home who had been allowed out on the streets, the fire brigade was summoned three times in one night. That is not behaviour that law-abiding citizens should have to put up with. I am sure 1181 that my hon. Friend's Bill will play a significant part in enabling the police to take corrective action to ensure that the alcohol is confiscated as soon as a problem arises.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) mentioned the significant threat to women on the streets or travelling on public transport. That is a particularly significant matter, which the House has attempted, through other Bills—particularly those on stalking—to deal with recently. Once again, my hon. Friend's Bill will be enormously important in that regard. There is no doubt that much of the threat caused to women who are travelling, simply walking their dogs, or whatever, is caused by young men who have consumed too much drink, illegal drugs, or both.
All these social problems are linked. They come back to the fact that, in far too many cases, parents are simply not aware of what their youngsters are doing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point has rightly said, responsible parents always ensure that their children are at home and properly looked after. The best local authority care homes have proper curfew systems, but, sadly, a minority of parents are prepared to allow children as young as eight to roam the streets. They are vulnerable to becoming victims of serious crime; they are also, in many cases, those who cause serious crime. I hope that, as a result of this important Bill, far more parents are encouraged to take active steps to check where their children are in the evening.
If, as my hon. Friend rightly says, the guidelines that result from the Bill ensure that police officers, when they have confiscated alcohol, also have the power to take the names and addresses of the youngsters and to see the parents, those youngsters will not get into trouble again. Once the parents are brought up short by a visit from a police officer, pointing out that their son or daughter has been found drinking late at night, they will take preventive action—at least, one hopes that any responsible parent would take such action.
I am a parent of one teenaged child and two somewhat younger children. As I drive round different parts of the country, I am constantly horrified to see how many groups of young people are out late at night, especially in the winter months, when it gets dark as early as 5.30. Despite that, groups of youngsters are often out until 10, 10.30 or 11, with, as the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Davies) said, nothing serious to do. That is how mischief occurs, especially when drink plays a part.
We have seen a huge increase in crime since 1951. Just over a week ago, in a debate on BBC radio, the distinguished journalist John Torode pointed out that, although we have seen a welcome fall in crime in the past few years as a result of the important measures introduced by this Government and the big increase in the number of police officers on the beat, to which I had the opportunity to draw attention at Home Office questions yesterday, one needs to look at the whole period since 1951. In 1951, there were only 500,000 crimes; we are now talking about 5 million and more.
The main reason why there has been a huge expansion in crime is the relaxed social attitudes which began in the late 1950s and continued through the 1960s, and the fashionable liberal ideas that have been so championed by members of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties over the years. It is interesting that, in a profile in 1182 The Independent this week, the journalist Polly Toynbee said that she trusted the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) as the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. The main reason why this party—this Government—will be triumphantly elected in a few weeks' time is that the majority of people do not trust the hon. Member for Blackburn.
§ Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)
If it is the Opposition's fault that crime has increased so much, why has crime more than doubled while this Government have been in office, whereas the number of cases that result in a conviction is only one in 50? Convictions are down and crime is up. How can that be our fault?
§ Mr. Hawkins
The hon. Gentleman has failed to realise that, in the past three years, there has been a significant drop in crime as a result of this Government's policies finally working. Whenever a Conservative Government have sought to introduce tough law and order measures, the Labour party has either opposed them or abstained.
Labour has not supported the increase in tough law and order measures. The acres of empty green leather behind the hon. Gentleman are, once again, proof positive that the Labour party simply does not care. Many of my hon. Friends are here supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point because this is the party of law and order. Every step of the way, Opposition Members have derided the Government's policy.
Even at Home Office questions yesterday, we once again had implicit support for the legalisation of soft drugs, to which the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), drew attention. At every step of the way, this is the party of law and order, and that is the party of apologists for crime.
§ Mr. Howarth
The hon. Gentleman really should not be free and easy with the facts. The Labour party's position, as the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, his hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope) will confirm, has been consistent. I have been responsible for it for the past couple of years. We are opposed to either the legalisation or the decriminalisation of any form of currently illegal substance. That is the Labour party's policy, and that is what we shall take forward to the electorate. There is nothing between the Government and ourselves on the matter. We have worked hard to establish a bipartisan position on it, and we will maintain that position.
§ Mr. Hawkins
The hon. Gentleman is giving the Front-Bench position. He ignores the fact that, as recently as last year, about 30 of his colleagues signed an early-day motion, once again calling for the legalisation of soft drugs. The Labour party has never had a consistent position.
§ Mr. Howarth
If the hon. Gentleman wants to cite individual Back-Bench Labour Members, he might take the trouble to read the book written by his hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), a senior member of his party, in which he called for the legalization—
§ Mr. Howarth
The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the 1183 chairman of the Conservative party, and he called for the legalisation even of hard drugs. Will the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) condemn him?
§ Mr. Hawkins
I condemn any call for the legalisation of any illegal drugs. However, the hon. Gentleman cannot get away from the fact that, as recently as last year, about 30 of his colleagues called for the legalisation of soft drugs. There will not, of course, be any mention of that in the Labour manifesto. The Liberal Democrat conference has more than once passed motions calling for the legalisation of soft drugs.
§ Mr. Chris Davies
The Liberal Democrat conference has done no such thing. It has passed a resolution calling for a royal commission to look at all aspects of the matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Conservative Members should read the motion we passed rather than their own propaganda.
Will the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) accept from me that, whatever the views of some Back-Bench Labour Members, some hon. Members believe that a different strategy needs to be examined if we are to deal with the menace of drugs, and that some of us believe that the hon. Member for Knowsley. North (Mr. Howarth) is burying his head in the sand?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
Order. Before the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) continues his speech, I must tell the House that, although the Second Reading debate on this Bill can be fairly wide, it is not all-encompassing. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman addresses his remarks more closely to the text of the Bill.
§ Mr. Hawkins
I am delighted to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, what we have seen in the past few minutes is a case of Opposition Members trying to defend the indefensible. The electorate will give their judgment on law and order matters at the election in a few months' time.
The Bill is exceptionally important. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point has drawn attention to the welcome his proposals have already received from police officers. I can tell him that police officers in the world capital of clubland—Blackpool—will also welcome it.
It is important to note, as my hon. Friend has stressed, that the Bill is not a killjoy measure. None of us wishes to damage young people's opportunity to go out and have a good time. The Portman Group has made a proposal, to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention, that young people should be able to carry proof of age on a voluntary basis. My hon. Friend and I would both support the introduction of identity cards, which would make a scheme such as the Portman Group's entirely unnecessary. I hope that, in due course, the Government will be able to pursue that matter.
It is important that, when young people go out to enjoy themselves, they should do so without disrupting the lives of law-abiding citizens. The Bill will help to give the police the powers they need to deal with the serious problem of under-age drinking. The Government have 1184 rightly increased the number of police constables on the beat. In 1979, when this Government came to power, the police were 8,000 under strength. Police morale was so low as a result of a perceived lack of support from the then Labour Government that there were even threats of a police strike.
By contrast, this Government have increased the number of police constables by 16,000. There will be further increases in the number of police officers on the beat. As a result of this important Bill, when it becomes an Act, the police will have the powers they need to confiscate alcohol and to prevent drinking by under-age drinkers.
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) on introducing the Bill. If he does nothing more during his time in the House, he will have achieved a great deal by this measure. My noble Friend Lord Braine of Wheatley represented Castle Point for 40 years and was the Father of the House. I know that he would strongly support the Bill.
It is all very well to have the slogan, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", but we need to demonstrate that toughness on crime. This morning, my hon. Friend has received tremendous support from Conservative Members, many of whom are present in the Chamber. I hope that people outside the House will draw their own conclusions from that.
The danger for me in supporting the Bill is that it will be perceived as an Essex problem. Although my constituency and the constituency to which I aspire adjoin that of my hon. Friend, I am convinced that the problem exists throughout the country.
§ Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)
My hon. Friend is quite right to say that the problem is not confined to Essex. My constituency is in the north-east of England, which, sadly, is second in the league table for offences of drunkenness—followed by Merseyside and ahead of London. There is a real problem in the north of England.
§ Mr. Amess
My hon. Friend the Member for Hexham reminds us that there is also a problem in the north of England.
My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point made a splendid speech that leaves his supporters with little more to add. I am proud to be one of the sponsors of his Bill, and I shall mention just a few specific points.
My hon. Friend mentioned the yobbish tendency that we sometimes experience on public transport. Last night, I travelled with my right hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) and Mr. Ken Hargreaves, a former Member, on the newly privatised Fenchurch Street line, which is now run by Prism. We enjoyed a most comfortable journey. According to the passengers we met, the service has improved tremendously. We witnessed no yobbish behaviour, and my colleagues were extremely well behaved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) referred to his own stature. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point in supporting the proposal by the Portland Group.
1185 Some years ago, I successfully introduced a ten-minute Bill on identity cards. I am still at a loss to understand how it is that we have to register our births and deaths, but the time between remains unregistered. I hope that the Government will produce plans to introduce identity cards.
I know that my hon. Friend is keen that there should be a wide range of facilities for young people, particularly those in Essex. We have both been privileged to have been associated with the "Bar'n'bus" project. This time last week the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) joined us in Leigh-on-Sea. The bus was brought to the wharf at the end of old Leigh, and we saw at first hand the marvellous achievements of the project. The organisers recognised that meetings in halls are not always successful, so a roving bus visits various parts of Essex. There are facilities for coffee, tea and entertainment, and the project has proved most successful.
We had the opportunity to speak to a number of youngsters, many of whom were victims of drug and alcohol abuse. We also saw a video that had been made on Southend sea front. It contained some pretty appalling scenes. They did not involve residents of Southend, which is famous for attracting holidaymakers, but very young people, who were clearly under age and who were swigging from various bottles. The interviews they were prepared to give on video showed the scale of the problem.
I know that my hon. Friend is keen that we should provide as many local facilities as possible for young people in Essex. I am heartened by the fact that the scouts, the guides, various youth clubs, the cadets, the St. John's Ambulance and a whole range of activities seem to be increasing in popularity, but there is no substitute for parents taking the trouble to spend much more time with their children to set them on the right road in life. That is the key to success.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer increased duty on alcopops by between '7p and 8p. The drinks are marketed to youngsters and are deceptively alcoholic. Many teenagers are well aware of the alcohol content of various drinks and go for the strongest available. I certainly support the points that my hon. Friends have made on the issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point referred to the Evening Echo, which supports his campaign. According to a recent article, £20 million a year is spent on advertising alcohol. However, I am not sure whether it is fully understood that, every year, alcohol kills thousands more people than all the illegal drugs put together. Some 90 per cent. of the population drink alcohol as a normal activity, and I am among them. However, about 25 per cent. of 13 to 17-year-olds get into arguments and fights as a result of drinking alcohol. The heaviest drinkers in the United Kingdom are 18 to 24-year-olds, and nearly 90 per cent. of boys in England have tried alcohol by the age of 13. It must be a matter of national concern.
§ Mr. Chris Davies
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, every day, some 75 people die prematurely as a result of alcohol consumption? Does he agree that there is a good case for making it illegal?
§ Mr. Amess
I do not underestimate the seriousness of the problem, but I do not share the intention of the 1186 hon. Gentleman or his party to introduce legislation to make alcohol illegal. That would certainly be a retrograde step, which would gain very little support in the country. We are discussing the abuse of alcohol by under-age drinkers.
§ Dr. Spink
As a parry to the lunatic argument that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Davies), does my hon. Friend agree that alcohol can help to save lives? It is a healthy activity provided that it is undertaken sensibly and the correct number of units are not exceeded each day, particularly if it is taken by a gentleman of my age.
§ Mr. Amess
My hon. Friend is very young, so I do not know what he meant by that remark. However, he is right to say that there is considerable medical evidence that a glass of red wine or whisky does no harm whatsoever. However, alcohol reaches the brain within five minutes of being swallowed.
Sergeant Michael Grout, Southend's licensing officer has done a great deal of work with young people. He said:In the past, under-age drinkers were given a ticking-off and sent on their way.Now we are trying to get the message over that these youngsters are committing an offence and will be cautioned.Officers from the unit have given talks in schools about the dangers of drinking, but also told them that they are committing an offence that will be prosecuted…A group of five youngsters were cautioned for drinking in a town centre pub recently, as were a group of five youths in another pub…Then in 1994 a report by youth workers nationally highlighted the growing problem of under-age drinking, and the unit began to combat this.Groups of youths were gathering on the seafront"—as I have already described—and High Street and causing a nuisance and fights.Sergeant Grout said that such groups have diminished since they embarked on the project,but a more worrying trend of 12 to 16-year-olds drinking the strongest alcohol available has emerged.I very much hope that the Bill will address that problem.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point has received support for his Bill from all parts of the country. I was sent a copy of a letter he received, in which a gentleman wrote:Much loutish behaviour is caused or made worse by alcohol, and at the moment I understand that the Police have no powers to confiscate it from young persons in public places, thus denying them a substantial weapon in enforcing the peace.The gentleman referred to an article in The Daily Telegraph, that reports, as we have heard, a superintendent in Northumbria attributing the success of his force in reducing crime toputting the fear back into the villains.The gentleman's letter concludes thatonly by restoring in young people a proper fear and respect for authority and an understanding that authority has power to impose its will if they step out of line, will it be possible to prevent the loutishness of today becoming the villainy of tomorrow.I wholeheartedly support this very serious and important Bill. All of us who have children know how vulnerable and easily led they can be. None of us knows 1187 when tragedy can befall our family. Many hon. Members have done their best to bring up their children, but their children have been misled by others. I very much hope that the House will unite in supporting the Bill, and that it will quickly become law.
§ 11.2 am
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Timothy Kirkhope)
I am grateful—all of us should be—to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) for introducing the Bill. Like others, I congratulate him very much on an excellent Second Reading speech. Like him, I believe that the Bill can make a real difference to many people's quality of life.
The House is not known by the public for its aversion to alcoholic beverages. Although many hon. Members who are present—including, by his own admission, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point—may on occasion call into the Smoking Room for a small refreshment to help them unwind after a particularly stressful day, I think that the whole House shares my aversion to the spectacle of groups of teenagers involved in a heavy drinking session in a bus shelter or park or on a shopping parade.
Sadly, such drinking has become a problem in many of our towns and cities, including my city of Leeds and, indeed, my constituency of Leeds, North-East, where shopkeepers and members of the public have been irritated and caused deep concern by such activities on shopping parades. The problem certainly does not exist only in Essex; as my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) has reminded us, it occurs throughout the country.
There is a loophole in the law. The Licensing Act 1964 prohibits young people under the age of 18 from purchasing alcohol on licensed premises and prohibits adults from buying alcohol to give to young people to drink on licensed premises, but it does not prohibit young people from consuming alcohol in any place other than licensed premises. Although the police take enforcement of the legislation very seriously, what they can do if they see young people knocking back lager, cider or even stronger drinks in a public place is none the less very restricted, because the young people and any adults with them are not committing an offence.
The Government take their responsibilities on alcohol very seriously. I remind the House that their health policy on drinking is clearly set out in the "Sensible Drinking Report", which was published in December 1995. That said that young people need to be aware of the specific risks of excessive drinking that relate to their life style and of the need to minimise such risks to prevent harm to themselves and others. The Department of Health has also produced health education materials.
Some local initiatives have already been introduced to combat under-age drinking. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point mentioned the one that was started by police in Weymouth, which was a response to the problem of under-age drinking in public areas. It involved videoing children drinking alcohol and taking them back to their parents, who were shown the video. The initiative has received considerable media coverage in local papers and 1188 on television, and encourages parents to take responsibility for their children. I echo the remarks of some of my hon. Friends in saying that parental responsibility is of course the key to anything concerning young people. It is sad that not enough parents are obliged to take responsibility for the actions of their children.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce
My hon. Friend has kindly referred to my constituency and the excellent work done by the police in the "Do you know where your children are?" campaign, which arose to a certain extent as a result of an earlier ground-breaking scheme in Weymouth. Everybody knows that the area leads the way in such crime control measures. A group of concerned Christian adults set up a night bus, where children could be sheltered, especially if they were feeling the worse for alcohol. Such concern about people drinking alcohol in public drew the matter to the attention of the police. The Bill will take the initiative we need to solve the problem.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
Indeed. My hon. Friend and I had a dialogue about the success of the schemes in Dorset. I very much commend them and agree that they are an example of how local initiatives can succeed in helping young people. The police believe that the initiative in Weymouth has been very beneficial to prevention of under-age drinking. Indeed, the campaign proved such a success that, as my hon. Friend will know, the police decided to tackle all the other problems relating to youths in the same way, and with the assistance of voluntary agencies.
The Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Bill provides a quick, on-the-spot solution. Once enacted, it will be available to an officer throughout England and Wales. Any officer who is concerned by a group of youngsters who are drinking will be able to act immediately to solve the problem. It is important to remember that, although the occasional glass of cider or wine may do youngsters no harm, if taken as part of a family celebration such as a wedding or birthday or at Christmas, regular drinking by young people poses a real threat to their health and could lead to dependence on alcohol in years to come.
Equally seriously, regular drinking can lead young people to become involved in crime. The police are able to point to the fact that many offences are committed when under the influence of alcohol. Young people when drunk can do things that they may deeply regret. They can be tempted to inflict criminal damage; many fights are alcohol-related; and if youngsters are tempted to take a car, they can be a grave danger to themselves and others.
Apart from the danger that young people might be drawn to crime, many members of the public find the sight of youngsters who are the worse for drink very disturbing. Such youngsters can be loud, loutish and offensive. They may be all those things without realising that they are causing offence. If nothing happens when youngsters behave in that way, it can add to the impression that the police are not in control, and that can increase the general fear of crime. The public may, not unreasonably, fear that, if the police are unable to control drunken youngsters, they may not be able to take action against real offenders.
Before the Bill was introduced, a consultation exercise was undertaken. As my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point mentioned, we wrote to many members of 1189 the licensed trade, many interest groups and the police associations. In case there is any doubt, I wish to make it plain that my hon. Friend has full support for his measure from representatives of all police interests, including the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation. Some concerns were expressed, of course, by some respondents, but the results were overwhelmingly favourable.
For instance, the British Retail Consortium said that it supported the proposals and thatThis action in itself could help to dissuade some youngsters from breaking the law in attempting to buy alcoholic drinks.Alcohol Concern supported the proposals and said:We share the Home Office's view that additional steps are needed to meet concerns about young people's drinking and that it is preferable for the police to be in a position to take action before any damage occurs rather than once the law has been broken … Alcohol Concern supports the proposals to give the police discretion to take alcohol away from under 18s drinking in public.The British Medical Association also supported the measures and said:We would support confiscation of alcohol as a measure to prevent underage drinking. It seems sensible that this will be implemented as a discretionary power … to avoid an additional burden on the courts.The consultation paper also asked whether there would be merit in clarifying the law on test purchases. Test purchases are not included in the Bill, but the consultation pointed out that test purchases by those under age had proved a valuable means of enforcing the prohibition of sale to children and young people of various items, including cigarettes, tobacco, fireworks and videos, in addition to alcohol. There have been recent suggestions that test purchases of alcohol involve the commission of an offence under the Licensing Act 1964.
The Government are not persuaded that that is necessarily correct, but we believe that it is unsatisfactory that the law is in doubt, and that the law should be clarified as soon as there is a suitable legislative opportunity. In discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, we came to the conclusion that his Bill was not the right legislative vehicle.
The Bill will give the police the power they need to deal with a particular problem. The provisions will give the police a power to confiscate alcoholic drinks or those that appear to be alcoholic from any person under the age of 18 in a public place or any other place to which such a person has unlawfully gained access. It will also give the power to confiscate alcohol from anybody who has reached the age of 18 or over if that person is in a public place or a place to which such a person has unlawfully gained access if the police have reasonable grounds to consider that that person will give alcohol to a young person in his or her company. That is an important part of the measure, and we believe that it will be effective.
The Bill will give the power of confiscation to any police officer. Before the Bill was drawn up, we consulted widely—as I have said—and the consultation paper originally suggested that the police officer should be in uniform. The Association of Chief Police Officers regarded that as a problem, because it considered that there might be times when a plain-clothes officer might wish to make use of the power. The Bill has been drawn up so that the power applies to any officer.
1190 The police will also be given the power to confiscate anything that is, or that the constable reasonably believes to be, intoxicating liquor. That is so that there can be no argument about whether a drink is alcoholic. We do not need to have an over-active imagination to conjure up the sort of confrontations that might otherwise take place—"No, officer, you are mistaken, this is not alcohol. I always keep my lemonade in a lager can." We might think that that would not be a convincing argument, but it might be irrefutable without analysis.
Imagine what would happen if the youngster had actually put lemonade in the lager can and the officer had confiscated it. If the power of confiscation were limited to intoxicating liquor, the police officer could have been accused of acting unlawfully, but that will not be a problem, I am glad to say, because the Bill will give the police the power to confiscate any drink that appears to be alcoholic. Any officer will be in his rights to confiscate not only a can of lager from someone who appears to be under the age of 18, but to confiscate a bottle labelled "lemon squash" if he has reason to suppose that something stronger is contained in the bottle.
§ Mr. Stern
That point gives rise to an interesting speculation. If a bottle of lemon squash is confiscated by an officer because he believes it to contain alcohol, will he be obliged to submit it for analysis, or will he be able simply to pour it away? In the former case, if the bottle is subsequently found to contain lemon squash, the officer could be liable because he has confiscated property unnecessarily.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I do not want to get into a long legal discussion about the issue, but the Bill makes it plain that officers will have to act reasonably. If they can show that they have done so, they will be protected. I thank my hon. Friend for raising an interesting point that may be gone into in further detail in Committee.
Alcopops have been mentioned in the debate. I have had some dealings with the Portman Group over some time and I am pleased that there is such a group. I am also pleased that it has set up a new independent panel under the chairmanship of Laurence Shurman, the former banking ombudsman, to take a close look at the marketing of such products. I welcome that and the present voluntary code, which seems to be working to some degree.
Having said that, I personally have deep concerns about alcopops. Whatever is said by the manufacturers, the mere wording of some of the titles of the products can appeal to young people. We should be careful about anything that, even covertly, encourages young people to drink alcohol. I know that I am a bit old-fashioned, but my connections with the brewing industry have taught me the care and professionalism that go into the production of beer. I find a fruit drink injected with chemical alcohol to be an aberration and I am not keen on those products or the way in which they are marketed.
However, we have a voluntary code, and the Government are undertaking careful monitoring of its success or otherwise. I hope that the monitoring will be active, and that, if we find that those products continue to blossom in number and in the luridness of their titles and appeal to young people, we will be prepared to take action against them. That is an important issue that concerns many people.
The Bill will also give the police power to confiscate alcohol in any public place. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) was right to 1191 refer to trains, because some people are concerned about drinking on public transport and in stations. I can assure the House that the provision is widely drawn and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point wishes it to apply to such areas.
The police will have the powers available to them whether the youngsters are in a park, sitting on a bench in the street, congregating around a bus station, a fish and chip shop, a shopping mall or even a cinema, or if they are trespassing in someone's garden or on school grounds at times when they should not be there. The police, as my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point has explained, will also have the power to confiscate alcohol from those who are over 18 if it is likely that the adult will give the alcohol to a young person in his or her company. That will prevent police powers from being frustrated. One can imagine that, without such a power, a mixed group of teenagers would quickly pass any alcohol that they were drinking to the oldest member of the group—who might be 18 or above—to keep until the police had gone away. The provision enabling the police to confiscate alcohol from those aged over 18 takes care of such mischief.
The power to demand the name and address of any person from whom the police confiscate alcohol is an important ingredient in a common-sense measure. We know from the initiatives in Weymouth—to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) and I have referred—that many parents are appalled to learn that their children are experimenting with alcohol, and this provision will allow the police to draw the matter to their attention. It is an offence under the Bill to refuse either to hand over the alcohol or to give one's name and address when requested to do so. This offence is subject to a level 2 fine—currently £500. The Bill also gives the police a power of arrest. That should ensure that youngsters do not refuse to hand over the alcoholic drink. Without that power, the police could be placed in the difficult situation of trying to remove alcohol from youngsters, which could degenerate into an unseemly tussle.
Although the Bill rightly backs the provision with an offence so that the law can be enforced, the whole object of the Bill is to avoid making young people into criminals. Even the best of youngsters can act unwisely—perhaps many hon. Members occasionally acted unwisely in their younger days. I am sure that few of the hon. Members here today are at present acting unwisely—although perhaps the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Davies) was slightly unwise to suggest that the doom-and-gloom merchants would prevail.
The Liberal Democrats try to have things all ways. On the one hand, the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth says that he will support the measure, but on the other hand, he wrings his hands and says that it will not work because the police will not want to know about it. We want to take a more optimistic approach to the legislation. It may be refined further in Committee, but I believe that it will work and that my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point has done the nation a great service by introducing the Bill.
§ Mr. Ian Bruce
I accept that the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Davies) has said that the motion to legalise drugs at the Liberal Democrat conference was aimed at setting up a commission, but the 1192 speeches made at that conference were wholly different. Indeed, a Liberal Democrat council leader and several of his colleagues went to the press to say that they thought legalising of drugs might well be the right way forward—at the same time as that council was attempting to persuade people not to go down that route by spending money on life education caravans and things of that nature. Frankly, the Liberal Democrats cannot have it both ways. They give mixed messages to teenagers.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
Perhaps those remarks were on a Monday; it is now Friday. I cannot explain it further than that.
I have mentioned that youngsters can act unwisely, but I should put that in context. The vast majority of our young people are law-abiding, conscientious and public and community-spirited, and we are lucky to have such young people. I do not want anybody to think that, in proposing the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point is in some way generalising about the behaviour of young people. We are talking about a small number who are disruptive and a nuisance, and they do nothing to give credit to their contemporaries. I hope that the Bill may lead to fewer young people coming before the courts, because youngsters will not go on to commit other offences when drunk. They should quickly learn that they are not going to be permitted to drink in public in future, and this tough line is a good thing in my view.
The Bill is drawn in general terms and, as has been pointed out, would in theory enable a police officer to confiscate a bottle of wine from a family who were picnicking if it appeared likely that one of the children was to have a sip. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point has said, and I reiterate, that that is not the intention. The purpose of the Bill is to prevent troublesome behaviour, and the police are expected to use their discretion when they use the measure. There is no duty on them to enforce the provisions, and there will be times when it will be sensible for the police to turn a blind eye to youngsters having the occasional drink—that could be for a number of reasons—but the power must be available when needed.
Of course, it is not only youngsters who have alcohol problems; many adults do as well, and it can lead them into trouble also. It might be thought that the police should have the power to confiscate alcohol from any person who is drinking in a public place. I can fully understand the reasons people have for that view, but the difference between adult drinking and juvenile drinking is that adult drinking normally takes place either in licensed premises or in one's own home. A licence holder may refuse to admit, or may expel from his or her premises, anyone who is drunk, violent, quarrelsome or disorderly.
§ Lady Olga Maitland
My hon. Friend is touching on an important point about adult drinking in a public place. He rightly says that most adult drinking is done in the privacy of one's own home, but the public are molested by drunkards who walk around carrying cans near Westminster and in Trafalgar square. I hope that he will review the situation and give the police the power to confiscate those drinks.
§ Mr. Kirkhope
I do not want to be tempted down the route that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, has attempted to tackle. It is important to 1193 note that there are many provisions and byelaws available to deal with adults in these circumstances, and I want to contain my remarks to young people.
As well as the byelaws in relation to adults, there is also a model byelaw, designed by the Home Office, to assist local authorities to make it an offence to continue to drink alcohol in designated public places after being asked to stop by a police officer. We have agreed 42 applications for the model byelaw, and others are under consideration. The byelaw has been effective in preventing public drunkenness and misbehaviour in certain city centres. Byelaws must apply to those of all ages, and it would be difficult for them to apply only to those under 18.
I conclude by repeating my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point on proposing an excellent piece of legislation. It is comparatively simple, and has only two clauses, but Bills of only two clauses often have an enormous impact on our society. The Bill will have an enormous impact—not only in its direct effect but in the clear message that it will send to young and old people alike that certain things are no longer tolerable. We must allow the police the necessary powers to prevent those things happening. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North)
I join in the congratulations to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink)—first, on his good luck in drawing a high enough ballot place to introduce the Bill, and secondly, on his choice of topic. However, he should have struck a slightly less aggressive tone in his speech, particularly as he is aware that the Opposition support the Bill. He might also have acknowledged that Labour-controlled authorities in Coventry and Glasgow forged new ground by introducing bans on drinking in public for all age groups—something that covers the earlier intervention by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). In local government and in the House, Labour has given support to the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.
I was going to make some observations on the speech by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) but, unfortunately, he made his speech—in which he commented on the fact that there were not many Labour Members present—and has not been seen since. I thought it worth mentioning his speech only because he had little to say about the Bill, but a great deal to say about law and order issues and the Government's record. So confident is he of defending that record to the people of Blackpool, South that he has taken himself off and found another constituency, but he can defend his observations in due course, I am sure.
In congratulating the hon. Member for Castle Point and supporting the Bill, I must point out that considerable evidence is available on the subject—some over a long period—which supports the need for something to be done about young people and alcohol. In a report in 1994, the Government's chief medical officer observed:From a very early age, young people develop a sophisticated awareness of alcohol and drinking behaviour. It appears that regular drinking, that is at least once a week, often begins at an early age and that weekly consumption in 14–15-year-olds is increasing. Recent surveys show that 20 per cent. of 9–15-year-olds have had their first alcoholic drink by the age of 8 and 89 per cent. by 13 years. Twelve 1194 per cent. of 11–15-year-olds are regular drinkers, and young people are also at risk for drunkenness offences and related criminal behaviour.Clearly, we have known for a few years of the scale of the problem across an alarming age group.
Similarly, a report from the Home Office working group on young people and alcohol as early as 1987 commented—this is particularly important, because it is a comment on urban areas:Studies in several city centres in England and Wales have shown that almost half of the incidents of disorderly behaviour dealt with by the police occur shortly after the end of permitted drinking hours, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights, and often involve young men".Therefore, the Home Office acknowledged as early as 1987 that there was a problem in city centres.
Another Home Office research study in 1989, "Drinking and Disorder: A Study of Non-Metropolitan Violence", stated:Inevitably, some of the lads (many of whom are very young) are over-excited or have drunk too much. Then an incident happens. Drunks stumble against each other, or insults are passed. Perhaps the proprietor of the local take-away feels he has to call the police. Then siren-cars draw up screaming—or perhaps some foot-patrol officers appear quickly. Whatever it is, the appearance of the police becomes part of the entertainment. There is something to watch. The crowds get more excited, jeer and taunt the police. Perhaps the whole incident calms down and the lads disappear … Perhaps it escalates".The problems are well documented and have been studied in great detail, so it is timely that we now try to deal with them.
One can draw a number of clear conclusions from the available information. First, there is a growing problem of under-age drinking. Worryingly, as the hon. Member for Castle Point described, ever younger children are drinking. Secondly, the mixture of young people and alcohol is often volatile. Disorderly behaviour, which even in its mildest forms can be intimidating for elderly people and women, is a case in point.
The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam referred to her experiences on trains. Many women feel very intimidated, whether in the streets, on public transport or in other public places. Elderly people certainly find it frightening when large numbers of young people congregate, either drinking or under the influence of drink, and they have to confront them. It is unacceptable if all those public places are not free for everyone to use and to feel safe and free in.
Sadly, drink and incidents of violence in young people often go hand in hand. Indeed, the Royal College of Physicians has estimated that one quarter of 14-year-olds become violent after consuming alcohol. There are probably well-publicised incidents of a violent kind every week in every major town and city involving young people. If we can remove the source of the violence—that is, alcohol—by the measures contained in the Bill, all to the good.
The hon. Member for Castle Point and the Minister cited the Portman Group and some of the excellent work that it has done. I also want to place on record the Opposition's appreciation of the important work that the group carries out. The Minister also mentioned the problem of so-called alcopops. The most worrying feature is the cynical way in which some manufacturers market those products. They are not designed for the mass market 1195 or for middle-aged people such as myself or other right hon. and hon. Members. They are tightly targeted to attract very young people into believing that they are taking something that is essentially a lemonade-style product, but which has some alcohol in it. The naming of the drinks and the way in which they are advertised are tightly targeted at young people.
I join the Minister in deploring those products and the way in which they are marketed. It is fair to give the industry warning that, if it does not clean up its act, legislation may soon become necessary to force it to do so. The jury is out, but the matter is in the industry's hands. If it does not act voluntarily, we shall need statutory control.
§ Mr. Howarth
I do indeed, and I have commented on the work of that group and the work that it plans for the future.
The hon. Member for Castle Point also called for increases in youth facilities and I agree, but we must give much more thought to what sort of facilities young people want in the world that we now live in. In my teenage years in the 1960s, our needs were far more simple. I was happy to attend the local church youth club once or twice a week, where a few records were played and there was a snooker table, of which I made full use. That was about the extent of our ambitions.
Although sporting activities rightly figure prominently among the needs of young people—my children are involved in a wide variety of sporting activities, including soccer—the style and presentation of youth facilities has changed since my day and it is a far more sophisticated area. I do not want to labour that point, but we must give it much more thought.
My borough of Knowsley has given a great deal of time and thought to how to package sporting facilities in a way that is more attractive to young people. For example, on a Saturday night, my daughter uses the leisure centre in Huyton, which offers the use of all the facilities in one evening for a limited entrance fee. Some young people find such an offer much more attractive than just paying for a swim, some weight training or whatever.
A lot of work is being done to make such activities more attractive, but the hon. Member for Castle Point is right to say that, in the absence of other things to do, young people are drawn to street corners. In that setting, they often learn the sort of behaviour that leads to excessive drinking, vandalism and other forms of minor street crime, which can turn into more serious crime in later years. It is right to acknowledge that problem, although it forms no part of the Bill.
The hon. Member for Castle Point mentioned the importance of the family in forming people's drinking habits, and referred to the more continental style of introduction to drink. As a parent, I agree. It is important for young people to be introduced to alcohol in a home setting and in a way that does not encourage binge drinking: perhaps a drink with a meal, or the occasional 1196 glass or bottle—or can, as that is what young people seem to prefer—of beer. An ethos of small-scale, enjoyable, controlled drinking in a family setting should be established. That is the approach that I take, and I am sure that the same goes for many other hon. Members.
The right hon. Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt), who I gather was something of an inspiration for the Bill, spoke of his experience in his constituency, and expressed support for the Bill on behalf of the Conservative candidate in Wirral, South. He would not expect me to allow that to go without comment: as I have taken pains to find out, the excellent Labour candidate for that seat, Ben Chapman, also supports the legislation, and he has asked me to convey his welcome for it. However, he expressed some serious concerns and praised the intelligent way in which the Merseyside police deal with the problem.
Drinking out of doors, as I have seen in my constituency, happens more in the summer months. In the hot summer of 1995, there was an eruption of the problem in the parks in Kirkby. The police made the observation that people who were illegally importing drink—mostly lager—from the continent would pull up their transit vans at places where they knew that young people congregated, and target them specifically. That is a matter to which we must give some attention in the future, although the Bill will be a help.
The Bill is a good start, although it will not solve all the problems. The Home Office has model byelaws in place to deal with the wider problem, and I would encourage local authorities to take them up. The Bill is worth while, and we support it. I wish the hon. Member for Castle Point well as it proceeds through its later stages.
§ Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) on introducing the Bill, which is thoroughly welcome, although I intend to comment on some of the details of its provisions. I am thoroughly envious of my hon. Friend's success in the ballot; after 14 years, I am still waiting to succeed, but I shall carry on trying.
The Bill is designed to fulfil a great need, which I can see in my constituency, especially around the small suburban shops, such as those in Station road, Henbury; Okebourne road, Brentry; Filton avenue; Gloucester road; and Conygre road. Groups of young people visit the shops, acquire alcohol by one means or another—no mention has yet been made of the phenomenon of young people outside supermarkets approaching strangers and providing them with money to go in and buy drinks for them—and congregate outside in a way that can be regarded only as intimidating by the elderly people who live nearby.
If the young people concerned are encouraged to move on, or decide for themselves to do so, too often it is to an adjoining piece of private land, which they use for an impromptu party. I am glad to see that that point is in part covered in the Bill, which refers not only to public places but to illegally occupied private places. I welcome that, and I believe that the Bill can go some way towards aiding the police, by giving them a power to deal in the most effective way with what is clearly a nuisance to the public.
1197 As my hon. Friend will know, the devil is often in the detail, and I hope that he will take my various criticisms, comments and queries in the context of my welcoming the Bill and wanting to see it enacted in this Parliament. We shall need to examine various aspects in Committee.
The Bill refers to young people drinking in a private place to which they have unlawfully gained access. My constituency, along with many other urban, suburban or semi-urban constituencies, suffers regularly during the summer months from illegal occupations of pieces of ground—usually public ground—by groups of travellers who arrive, stay until they are moved on, and then depart for another similar piece of ground. There is a continual battle between the local authority and me about whether it is using adequately the powers that the Government have given it, to move on as quickly as possible what is undoubtedly a public nuisance.
I do not expect either my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point or the Minister to answer this query today, but I hope that it will be considered in Committee: will the Bill give the police powers to follow young people on to those illegally occupied pieces of ground, in order to confiscate the alcohol that they have purchased from local shops? My local police would welcome such a power, as an effective way—in spite of the local authority—of putting further pressure on groups of travellers to end their illegal occupation.
I am a little concerned by the power in the Bill for the police to confiscate alcohol from a person aged 18 or over if that person is suspected of being likely to pass the alcohol to someone under the age of 16. I entirely understand the need for that power, but I am concerned that it could allow over-active policing: if an adult, of any age, is seen coming out of a shop with a couple of bottles of Hooch or Bacardi Breezer, the implication could be that the drink is for consumption by a young person, because all the marketing of such drinks is aimed at the young. I would not wish store detectives, especially in large supermarkets, to be forced to note the adults who regularly purchase such drinks, in case the police needed to investigate because of the clear implication of a potential offence.
I come now to an aspect of the Bill that I find rather worrying—the power of arrest given to the police when a young person found with alcohol refuses to give his or her name and address. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and other colleagues have said that they would give general support to a future Government Bill to introduce identity cards. They will be aware that that support is not universally shared on the Conservative Benches. I am one of those who have expressed considerable doubt about compulsory identity cards.
It appears to me that the wording in the Bill is framed as if identity cards were already in existence. An officer on the streets in my constituency may see a young person apparently consuming alcohol under age and ask him for his name and address. I accept that in many cases that young person will already be known to the police. However, if the young lad concerned says, "My name is Michael Stern and I live at 131 Westbury road," I would hope that the local police would know that he was giving a false name and address, although I cannot be sure of that. If the young lad is careful and says, "My name is John Smith and I live in Station road," the police officer would be placed in an invidious position. The young lad would be given an obvious way out, simply by claiming 1198 a false identity and also claiming that he was unable to prove his identity. Without a compulsory identity card, I am not sure how we can get around a problem that is posed by the Bill because it gives that power of arrest.
A number of other provisions in the Bill concern me and I wonder whether adequate consideration has been given to the drafting of a measure which, after all, gives considerable additional powers to the police. For example, I wonder whether a level 2 fine is an appropriate penalty for an offence under the Bill. Clearly, the Bill is aimed at persuading young people not to drink in public places. It gives police the power to confiscate, using reasonable force, when the young person concerned will not stop drinking in a public place. I hope that it would be seen as a total failure of policing if such a case actually reached the juvenile courts and the youngster concerned was subject to a fine on the scale outlined in the Bill. Therefore, I wonder whether it is wise to include such a fine in the Bill, as it might tempt the police to use it.
I have another point, which I do not expect my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point to deal with today, but which I hope can be dealt with in Committee. Why does not the Bill extend to Northern Ireland, in the way that so much of our legislation now rightly does?
I am concerned about the general power of disposal of seized alcohol that is given to the police in the Bill. My hon. Friends will know that on a number of occasions I have spoken in the House about the similar power available to Customs and Excise when it seizes bootlegged alcohol. It is a continuing problem for Customs and Excise. I hope that the Bill would encourage, if no more than that, the disposal of any alcohol seized down the nearest drain, rather than being carried back as an exhibit to the local police mess. As I said in an intervention earlier, the police would be well advised to dispose of seized alcohol down the nearest drain as quickly as possible, to avoid any challenges over whether it was indeed alcohol.
I am conscious that other hon. Members wish to speak and that we are short of time. It is a good, worthwhile and necessary Bill. The police undoubtedly need the sort of powers proposed in the Bill. However, I fear that there is still a great deal of work to be done in Committee.
§ Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham)
My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) is to be congratulated on being lucky in the ballot. I was lucky a couple of years ago, so I know that from the moment a Member of Parliament scores a low number in the ballot, every pressure group in the United Kingdom is on his doorstep trying to persuade him to adopt its Bill. It is to the great credit of my hon. Friend that he chose this Bill, which I wholeheartedly support. It is a valuable Bill that will give the police an important new weapon in their armoury to deal with the problem of under-age drinking in public places.
It is important to recognise what the Bill is not—it is not an answer to the ills of alcohol and under-age drinking. In fact, the Bill is an assault on yobbery, which is why I support it. Although yobbery may not come high up the scale of criminal offences, its effects are widespread and distressing for many people. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) told us how people are intimidated by gangs of under-age youths 1199 drinking in bus shelters and other such places. I know that in my constituency many people—not just elderly people—are frightened to go into the centre of the market town of Hexham at night because of gangs of youths with drink. It even affects villages in the Tyne valley. The village of Wylan—which my hon. Friend the Minister knows well—has recently suffered from visitations by youths from surrounding areas, causing problems for local people. These are quality-of-life crimes, which people are increasingly coming to understand are very important.
Fear of crime is often far worse than the crime itself—that is certainly the case for many elderly people. One of the causes of that fear is the yobbish behaviour of groups of irresponsible young men. Indeed, the vandalism and criminal damage that result from that bring down a neighbourhood. The pride of the neighbourhood goes when trees newly planted by the local authority are broken, litter is left lying around and graffiti are sprayed about. Therefore, I am especially grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point for introducing the Bill.
What has surprised me—I think that it is a misunderstanding of what the Bill is about—is that interested groups, such as the Portman Group, oppose the Bill. In its submission, it said that the Billstrikes us as excessive and an undesirable precedent to create a blanket power of confiscation from people where there is no suspicion that disorder or nuisance might occur.That group misunderstands the Bill. It is not a Bill designed to solve the problems of drunkenness—it is intended to stamp out a particular form of drunkenness.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) may be too legalistic in his attitude. When I spoke to my local police about the Bill, they said that it was a great idea. They said, "We won't be using it to its limits. However, when we see young men in the streets with cans or bottles of drink in their hands, we can tell them to pour it down the drain or we shall nick them." The police want the Bill so that they can remove the problem before it arises. Currently, they can move young people on, but they cannot make them dispose of the alcohol. I understand my hon. Friend's concerns, but with some legislation we simply have to launch it and hope that the good sense of the police will make it work properly. I am confident that it will work properly.
At the risk of being out of order, may I say that the Northumbria police have had a successful five years in the fight against crime? A few days ago, they announced for last year a further 15 per cent. fall in crime. That is one of the biggest drops that the force has had in a year and it has resulted in a 30 per cent. drop in crime in Northumbria over the past five years. Northumbria started off badly, with many problems, one of which is that, compared with other parts of the country, there is a high conviction rate for drunkenness. Merseyside normally has the worst rate and Northumbria is usually second. It is a sad record that neither region appreciates. We have a higher rate of drunkenness per 100,000 people than that in even the Metropolitan police area.
The police in Northumbria have been tackling the issue in various ways. They were successful in reducing under-age drinking in Wallsend near Newcastle where, along with the local authority, they have clamped down especially on licensees who sell drink to those who are 1200 under age. Some licences have been withdrawn from off-licences, and that should set an example. In Gateshead, the police reduced street vandalism and youth disorder by 20 per cent. in a month through a drive to tackle those problems.
The national figures on drunkenness are encouraging, in that they have been falling for the past 10 years. An important aspect of the matter is the age of those who are convicted of drunkenness. Those convicted of that offence used to be aged 20 to 21, but the age has slowly been reducing and the average has recently moved from 19 to 18. There have also been convictions of people aged from 14 to 16, and with the average age down to 18, there will be many problems with people younger than that.
The 1994 figures show a sad number of convictions for drunkenness. I am talking not about bad behaviour, but of people being sufficiently drunk to be arrested. The figures show that people aged from 14 to 17 have been convicted. They also show a few under the age of 14 who are not usually included in the figures. There is a growing problem with young drinkers, and I am grateful for the opportunity to support a Bill that will address that.
I have a technical point for the Minister. Like me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt) was surprised to learn about the existing licensing and drink laws. Until I made some inquiries, I did not know that it is perfectly legal to give drink in a private or public place to anyone over the age of five. That is extraordinary. Anyone caught giving drink to a child under the age of five would be caught by the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
Curiously, it is perfectly proper for me to take a child or my daughter or son—perhaps at the age of 14—to a public park on a Sunday and give them beer, for a picnic. Under clause 1 of the Bill, the police would have the power to arrest me for doing that. As I say, I was surprised to learn of those provisions. No doubt they will form a suitable subject for my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West to add to his list for debate in Committee, and I shall not have to add them to mine.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point on his Bill. I welcome it and hope that it will have support. I apologise to the House in advance if I am not here for the end of the debate, as I have to leave shortly to return to my constituency.
§ 12.2 pm
§ Mr. Hartley Booth (Finchley)
The Bill has been fulsomely praised and welcomed, but that need not stop because I shall add to it by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) on his judicious choice of subject.
I should like to deal with juvenile crime and its link to alcohol. Juvenile crime is demonstrated by the criminal statistics. The peak age for a criminal offence is between 14 and 16. For females, the age is 14 to 15, while it is 15 to 16 for males. It is important to discover what is helping to cause crimes that are committed at those ages. Hon. Members have already mentioned the importance of looking at the causes of crime. At the heart of them is substance and alcohol abuse at an early age. At the heart of the mosaic that we are dealing with is this little piece—alcohol. It is perhaps important to deal not only with the detail, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) did, but with the wider links with that piece of mosaic. For instance, the culture and peer pressure help to stimulate crime by young people 1201 Last week in this place, I talked to a great gentleman called Lei Lei, a famous artist from China, whose paintings have already sold for great pric. He explained how, as a young man in China—he described himself as a peasant—he was poverty-stricken. He said that young people in Britain were spoilt because they were given too much—perhaps not a thought that is often expressed by Labour Members in praise of our education system. He added that, when he was young during the cultural revolution in China, he had one pen a year. There was no paper; he could draw only on newspapers. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point was right to address what it is in the culture that leads to the problems and to say that alcohol is part of the culture of young people.
As some colleagues may know, I too have studied alcohol and drug abuse for many years. I did some research asking people what started them off on alcohol and drug abuse. I spoke to one individual who gave me seminal evidence on the subject. He explained that, when he was nine years old, at Sunday lunch, he was given a glass of alcohol—cider—and that that set him off. It gave him a buzz. He stole alcohol all through his childhood, and he soon got on to drugs.
In the process that follows the Bill, we need to consider whether five, 10, 15 or 20 per cent. of people are predisposed to addiction and are addictive personalties. It is perhaps partly a mental problem. I hope that we will consider that in future years, and that that piece of mosaic will be part of a serious analysis. We therefore need to do much more.
§ Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)
My hon. Friend has talked about the need to look to the future. Does he agree that perhaps some local authorities could do what Glasgow has done and introduce byelaws that ban the drinking of alcohol by everyone in public places? Does he further agree that, in parts of the London borough of Barnet, for example, people drink alcohol in public places, take drugs and intimidate law-abiding citizens?
§ Mr. Booth
I take that point. During the debate, there has been reference to the importance of byelaws. To be fair, the Labour spokesman, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth)—I see him nodding—referred to it.
Hon. Member after hon. Member has said that there is a vast amount of evidence on the link between alcohol and crime by young people. I should like to give my own. I was a barrister too, and saw the link many times. I found out about the tragic offence, not yet known to the criminal calendar, called "bottling". One does not need to explain exactly what it is—it explains itself.
Before I entered Parliament, I studied these matters and tried to help behind the scenes in the Home Office and the Cabinet Office. In the mid-1980s, we had appalling trouble with young people drinking alcohol on the terraces of football pitches. Hon. Members who were in the House at the time know that legislation was speedily introduced in three months to ban alcohol on the terraces. It is fair to say that, during our research leading to the legislation, I and others telephoned the Scottish Office because such legislation had been introduced in Scotland in 1981.
§ Mr. Booth
My hon. Friend refers to Glasgow. Scotland had introduced the legislation in 1981. The 1202 Scottish Office said that, once that legislation banning alcohol on the terraces was in place, families came back to football. Those responsible for the policy in Scotland also reported that, as a result of the ban on alcohol, attendances at football matches had risen greatly, and crime was down.
The Conservative Government brought in similar legislation for England and Wales in 1985, and a year later statistics revealed that the number of crimes committed at football matches had dropped by 36 per cent. In all fairness, the anti-alcohol legislation was not solely responsible for that change, because the introduction of closed circuit television also had an effect. Those two principal changes were equally important. The ban on alcohol, however, was the only material change made to the law. It demonstrably proved that alcohol had been a major factor influencing crime on the terraces, and it helped to alter behaviour at football matches. There is bags of evidence to prove a link between alcohol and crime in addition to that already cited.
Since Victorian times it has been possible for licensed premises to ban children from buying alcohol, but the Bill neatly fills in a gap identified by the police and Home Office research. I praise it for doing so.
I hope that the Bill will be part of wider work on the young, and, in particular, on the attention deficit disorder, which is another major factor in bad behaviour. I hope that those at the Home Office and perhaps in the Opposition home affairs team will consider conducting research on ADD. It is another piece of the mosaic which must studied as we attempt to deal with crime in the future.
I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West because I believe that the level 2 fine is appropriate. We should not presume that the police will always impose it—in any event, the Crown Prosecution Service would suggest the appropriate fine to the court, not the police.
In Committee, I hope that we will be told that special constables and the transport police will also have recourse to the Bill.
Clause 1(1)(b) should be analysed in Committee because I believe that evidence showing that someone intended another person to drink alcohol would necessarily be tenuous. It would be extremely difficult to prove that in a court of law.
The Government have a fine record on dealing with the problem of alcohol misuse. In the 1980s, they established an interdepartmental committee under the chairmanship of John, now Lord, Wakeham to investigate each Department's approach to the problem. I gather from the gesture from my hon. Friend the Minister that that committee is still at work—I hope so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point and the Government hold the problem of alcohol misuse to their heart, and I praise them for what they have done. We have heard excellent references today to the work of the police, parents and those in the voluntary sector. I commend the Bill. I hope that it will foster other work in the everlasting research and effort to ensure that our young people grow up honestly and soberly.
§ Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) on promoting the Bill. As he is not in the Chamber, however, I shall reserve my remarks on his speech until the end of mine.
What a relief it is for me—taking off my party political and parliamentarian hats and going out as an ordinary member of the public—to find that a major loophole in the law is being dealt with. It is deeply frustrating to walk in high streets and other public places, or to use public transportation, and to find oneself harassed, pushed around and feeling threatened—I may not have been in danger in the example I gave in my earlier intervention, but I thought I was—and to believe that nothing is being done about the problem. This Bill would give police real powers to take clear and positive action to change the landscape, particularly in town centres, by removing the item that makes a young person misbehave.
The problem is much wider, however, than young people drinking in public. We must ask why they are drinking so much, and, more importantly, why they are out so late at night. What are their parents doing, and why cannot parents control their children and keep them at home? I do not accept the argument that young people have nothing to do, because that is nonsense; there is plenty for young people to do.
Perhaps the problem is moral poverty, listlessness and no sense of direction. Perhaps society has a role to play in helping to build more cohesive families and in promoting the traditional family structure of two parents—a man and wife committed to each other and to rearing their children in harmony. Children are far less likely to be lounging on street corners causing problems if they live in a traditional family environment.
The problem affects not only deprived inner-city areas but the entire country, and all social groups. My constituency of Sutton is a very pleasant suburban area and has many trees. People there live well. They have jobs, and they are proud—
§ Lady Olga Maitland
I thank my hon. Friend.
People in Sutton are proud, dignified and hard-working. Even in our own high street, however, we have the problem of under-age drinking. The problem has been exacerbated because, in their wisdom, Liberal Democrats in the town hall gave planning permission for the opening of new nightclubs and pubs. Sutton residents knew that such permission would bring only trouble to the high street, and that is what has happened.
We sent petitions and warned the council, and we demonstrated on the issue, but it would not listen. I have spoken to the local police, and they have shrugged their shoulders and admitted that their representations to the council were not properly heard. At long last, the police may be given those vital powers.
Sutton police have also told me of their intense frustration. Currently, all they can do when they find under-age young people helpless with drink in the high street is to bundle them into a car and return them to their parents. Often, parents are shocked and horrified to 1204 discover that their child has been out, and the child's bravado drops like a stone. There is good reason to believe that parental involvement will be a key factor in achieving the Bill's intentions.
We should deal with another aspect of the problem—the marketing of those somewhat off-beat drinks, the alcopops. I have long admired Dr. John Rae, the director of the Portman Group, and congratulate him on working with drinks manufacturers to create a voluntary code. Although the code is working, it has not solved the problem. There is no point in having a voluntary code to control the marketing of such drinks if it ultimately has no bite or sanctions to force changes in marketing practice.
I read in The Daily Telegraph today that there has been a degree of success in that the Portman Group upheld some complaints about particularly aggressive advertising of drinks with names such as Purple Passion, TNT Liquid Dynamite and a beer called—I do not think that I can mention its name publicly as it is just too awful. [HON. MEMBERS: "Go on."] No, I will not.
Such drinks are being marketed aggressively for a host of reasons. One is to make young people feel big and brave. Others are to imply that a youngster drinking these products will be more attractive to women or that drinking them is safe because they are really nothing but soft drinks with a little lift. Such insidious marketing is very dangerous. We should go beyond merely upholding complaints and consider how to impose sanctions on manufacturers who use unsuitable advertising which incites young people to drink and thus causes serious problems.
The number of young people taking to drink has rocketed. Some surveys have been carried out of the numbers involved. For example, Edinburgh university conducted a survey of 7,500 pupils in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is worrying that it found that 94 per cent. of those pupils had consumed alcohol.
Young people drink alcohol because they believe it to be an easy option with no dangers. They want to be seen as grown up and want to show off to their friends, but they have no idea how to handle alcohol or of its effects, and their behaviour is causing them untold harm. One of the dangers is that alcohol makes them lose their sense of control and reason. Unfortunately, that leads to unprotected sex and we see teenage mothers coming on stream. This is the reality; what I am saying is not anecdotal.
A teenage mother came to see me, bouncing her baby on her knee. I asked her how she came to be pregnant—I was rather severe with her and imagined being her mother. She replied, "Oh, one too many drinks at Christmas." I said that I hoped the father was going to support the child but she said that he could not because he was still at school—she was, too. The problems caused by drinking are so serious that the Bill is more important than we perhaps realise.
We must also bear it in mind that some young people who drink alcohol because it gives them a buzz and a lift might, in their vulnerable state, try soft drugs and then hard drugs. That can lead to a life of crime to support the purchase of those drugs or more alcohol. The Bill will therefore be far more effective than we have perhaps given it credit for.
It is interesting to note what has happened when local authorities have tried to control drinking in public places by invoking byelaws, which have some merit. 1205 Byelaws have been invoked in many towns in Scotland, and we have also heard about Coventry, Merseyside and Northumbria. However, the difficulty with byelaws is that they do not give the police the power to confiscate the drink—the police can say only that drinking in a public place is banned. That is fine but it does not go far enough or have enough "crunch" to it.
What the police can do, however, is get tough with off-licences. Indeed, in many cases, they monitored off-licences to see whether they were illegally selling drink to young people, or aiding and abetting people who could lawfully buy drink but who then handed it to their younger brothers and sisters.
Byelaws can be effective, as we have seen throughout the country. Indeed, I was talking to the local police for Whitby Bay about how effective byelaws have been in bringing under-age drinking under control. It is interesting that, in Northumbria, crime dropped by 50 per cent. when they were introduced, because, when people are not drunk, they are less likely to misbehave, and there is less likely to be vandalism, theft, burglary and other socially unacceptable behaviour.
My hon. Friend's Bill is enormously important—I am glad to see that he has returned. With this Bill, he is leading and the world is following. Many people will follow the Bill's progress with enormous interest. When it becomes an Act, it will undoubtedly change our social landscape, and will place greater emphasis on parental power and responsibility. Parents must be accountable not only to their children but to the law. Perhaps, at a later stage, we will hold parents accountable—even have them up in court and fine them—if their children are persistent drinkers.
The debate has been enormously successful. This is a very welcome Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his choice.
§ Dr. Spink
I am grateful to all hon. Members for supporting this important Bill. By their actions, everyone will see that we in the House intend to make the streets safer for young and old people alike. I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Minister and the Home Office for their kind help.
We have had a constructive debate, in the best traditions of the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt) made a powerful speech, and brought to the debate the experience of his local police. He spoke most eloquently, and I am deeply indebted to him for his encouragement to me to take up the Bill in the first instance, and for his subsequent advice.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff), who has given his full support to the Bill and does such excellent work in his constituency in fighting this problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins) was right to focus on the support for the Bill from the police,, who, after all, have to deal with these problems on the streets at the sharp end.
1206 My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) made a most important point about the provision of youth facilities. The Bill in itself will not be a panacea. It will not solve all the problems. We need to provide alternative and challenging facilities for young people.
I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, for his positive approach to this measure. He rightly drew attention to the simple formula: drink plus youths equals trouble, and too often violence, so we must act now. He made an excellent speech. I am sorry if he thought me a little critical. It was not directed to him personally. I am very grateful for his support.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) made her usual fearless injunctions on behalf of the family. She is unequalled in her support for the family, and we all enjoyed her speech.
The Portman Group believes in targeted rather than blanket solutions. It says:Problems such as drink-driving, late-night disorder and excessive or 'binge' drinking are best solved by a combination of balanced legislation, high quality staff training for alcohol retailers and credible research-based education about what constitutes 'sensible' drinking.My Bill will play an important legislative part. Although mention has been made of the Portman Group's opposition to the Bill, it has told me that, providing that it is just one measure in a whole series of measures, and that it takes into account the various practical difficulties that I addressed in my speech, it is happy to see the Bill go forward. I am grateful to the Portman Group for its support, even though it is a little lukewarm.
The Portman Group's code of practice on the naming, packaging and merchandising of alcoholic drinks has been supported by the vast majority of companies that manufacture and sell alcohol in the UK. The code represents agreement within the industry that no alcoholic drink should appeal overtly to under-18s. It is a voluntary code; I hope that it works, and I congratulate the Portman Group on its finding in the three cases this morning. The industry must, however, realise that, if the voluntary code does not work, the matter will be taken up by the House, and we shall enforce tighter restrictions.
A number of detailed questions on the guidelines and on unlawful access have been raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) and for Finchley (Mr. Booth), and especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern). The latter is absolutely right to put the Bill under the most careful scrutiny, and I welcome that. Those questions will be dealt with in Committee; I shall not deal with them now, because I want to give as much time as possible to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) to ensure that the Road Traffic Reduction Bill can get the same fair and full Second Reading that my Bill has been afforded by the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second Time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).