HC Deb 15 January 2003 vol 397 cc714-6 2.21 pm
Bob Spink (Castle Point)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001; to make further provision relating to the confiscation of intoxicating liquor held by or for use by young persons in public and certain other places; and for connected purposes. The Bill's aim is simply to restore to the police the power to remove all alcohol from young people in public places so that they do not consume it, get into trouble and cause mayhem in our communities. Let me first establish evidence of current youth drinking habits. The health and science section of the 11 January edition of The Week, under the heading "Teenage binge-drinkers", states: British teenagers are drinking more heavily than ever before—and they do it with the sole purpose of getting seriously drunk. Alcohol consumption among children aged 11 to 15 has almost doubled in the past decade…Of the 85 per cent. of 15-year-olds who drink, boys admit to consuming an average of 13.8 units a week—the equivalent of seven pints of lager—and girls 10.7 units. Most of this drinking occurs in just two nights. Andrew McNeill of the Institute of Alcohol Studies said: What we're seeing is an epidemic of binge-drinking. By the time you're 15, getting slaughtered is a central part of your social activities. I was inspired to do something about this partly by Peggy Grant, who sadly passed away on 23 December. When Peggy was Castle Point's mayor in 1995, she went on to the streets on dark, cold, wet nights at 9 and 10 o'clock, although she was 70, to meet, talk with and understand young people. She tried to solve the problems that we are all so vividly aware of to help the kids and the rest of the community. She found that alcohol was a major contributor to those problems. She had courage, enthusiasm and genuine warmth. She also had dedication, determination and great dignity as mayor of Castle Point. She cared for young and old alike, and was a role model for all politicians—a truly great Conservative mayor who will be much missed in Castle Point.

In 1995, there was, remarkably, no law to prevent young people and children from abusing alcohol in public places. So, with Peggy Grant's encouragement, I introduced a private Member's Bill to give the police powers to stop under-age alcohol abuse and take back control of our streets. My Bill was enacted in 1997 and it worked well across the nation, but then new Labour became the Government and the then Home Office Minister—not, I hasten to add, the Minister for Policing, Crime Reduction and Community Safety, who is in his place—issued a press release stating that the under-age drinking confiscation measure, which meant my Bill, showed Labour's determination to crack down on crime and disorder". That was pure, unadulterated new Labour duplicity. Last year, the Government's Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 removed the power that I had given the police to take unopened cans and bottles of alcohol from youngsters in public places. That was pure, unadulterated new Labour stupidity. The Prime Minister then claimed that he was giving all possible powers to the police to tackle antisocial behaviour, street crime and drugs. That was pure, unadulterated new Labour hypocrisy.

To claim that my Bill was a new Labour initiative and try to take credit for it was a lie; to remove police powers to take alcohol from young children on our streets was stupid; and to claim that all is well and that all is being done on our streets is hypocrisy. So there we have it. New Labour says that it listens and that it acts to tackle crime. It says that it will protect our children and our communities, but it is simply arrogant, stupid and hypocritical—and the Prime Minister is personally responsible.

Let me set out some evidence on under-age drinking. A constituent who said that she would be honoured to be named in this place—I shall just call her Rosemary, however—bravely wrote to me to say: The recent change in law has undoubtedly confused youngsters in believing that it is now legal to smoke cannabis in public. I have observed over the past weekend two separate groups of youngsters in the bus shelter outside our house so doing…I wonder how many of them would actually indulge if they were not swigging alcohol at the same time. It is my opinion that the overindulgence of alcohol is to blame for our youngsters experimenting in the first place…This does not only pertain to the 'odd joint' but harder drugs…crime, and mindless vandalism, the latter of which we see all too frequently…clear rules and laws must be set out to protect our youth and our future society from the somewhat soft approach of the left wing! My husband and myself do not want to live in fear of street crime but it is always now in the front of our minds. The House should listen to Rosemary's wisdom.

Let me set out what Basildon's Evening Echo said on 25 October. An article by Gary Pearson says: As many as 40 areas in Castle Point may be plagued with the problem of boozy youngsters, according to Tory councillor Bill Dick. The St. Peter's ward representative voiced his concerns about drink-fuelled teenage nuisance after residents complained". In another edition, the Evening Echo reported: Sgt Matt Bell, of Southend's Licensing Unit, said: 'We all know that there is a link between alcohol consumption and violence."' On 12 April last year, Inspector Steve Rawlings of Castle Point police wrote to me: Youth nuisance and associated damage is a major problem…In the last few months I have spent many thousands of pounds in police overtime to try to resolve the problems…I am sure alcohol will only fuel the situation again. It is unfortunate that the powers you fought so long and hard to get introduced have once again been watered down, to make them virtually useless. I refer of course to the seizure of alcohol from juveniles. The power was used to good effect during last year…but now its effectiveness has been substantially reduced. As we can now only seize open containers, it will mean that if we find someone with a four pack of lager, and only one tin is open, that is the only one we can seize leaving them with the remainder. Those may be children of nine, 10 or 11 who are out at 10 o'clock on a Friday night. Inspector Rawlings continues: Isn't it a wonderful use of police time making us return four times (and maybe more) to carry out what we used to be able to do on the first occasion. Bournemouth's The Daily Echo ran a campaign called "Where are your children?", which was launched just after my private Member's Bill became law. It said: Children as young as 13 are hitting the bottle in an epidemic of under-age drinking in Bournemouth. Now police—increasingly on the receiving end of violence and abuse from drunken teenagers—have begun a major crackdown using new powers to seize alcohol from youngsters. They were using my Bill. The newspaper continued: In just two and a half hours, 51 young people aged between 13 and 17 were stopped and searched and alcohol with an estimated value of £110 seized. A search of a 15-year-old boy also revealed a craft knife capable of inflicting serious wounds. The hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) told me that his local police are ignoring new Labour's new law and continuing to take unopened cans and bottles from youngsters in public places.

Thus the Government have contrived to make criminals of the police and to help youngsters into crime and drugs. All of us in this place know that the first use of drugs by young people most often takes place under the influence of alcohol. Such is the reality of a bankrupt, arrogant Government who have simply stopped listening.

This raises the question of why the Prime Minister removed the police power last year. Did he think that the police were improperly harassing young drunkards and thugs on our streets? Or he is simply out of touch? Or does he simply not care?

Perhaps the Government will now revert to the common-sense law that worked so well: my original Bill. They may use the Licensing Bill, although I doubt that that would be terribly appropriate. In the meantime, I ask the House to support my new Bill giving the police powers to stop out-of control, dangerous under-age drinking on our streets.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Bob Spink, Mr. David Amess, Mr. Peter Lilley, Mr. Frank Field, the Rev. Martin Smyth, Mrs. Angela Browning, Andy King, Andrew Mackinlay, Mr. Henry Bellingham, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Sir Nicholas Winterton and Miss Ann Widdecombe.