Tackling alcohol problems: Violent Crime Reduction Bill

Five and a half hours in Committee going over the details of the Violent Crime Reduction Bill.

Today is alcohol – and we are moving through Drink Banning Orders and Alcohol Disorder Zones. Drink Banning Orders will enable the police and local authorities to stop an individual coming into a certain area because of their ‘criminal or disorderly behaviour’. The trouble, as ever, with Labour legislation is that it is overweening and undefined – that it could easily be abused. For instance – the bill uses the term ‘disorder’. This is very broad and could mean that rather than the powers to ban people being concentrated on just those cases where they are really needed to tackle persistent and serious problems arising from drunkenness, instead that the powers end up being abused to ban people for all sorts of other reasons.

My task is to argue that there needs to be more definition. An example of where this could all go horribly wrong is when one Labour member said something like – you might get someone late at night shouting as they ran down the street drunk. Well – if a single instance of high spirits is all it needs to take away someone’s freedom of movement, then we are going too far. So the challenge is to try and make the Government legislation more exact, more robust and to ensure that the powers given cannot be misused in such a way.

The Government is not minded to listen to reasonable argument – at least not really in this public session. As I understand it they use all the stuff we give them and then bring it back as their own at a latter stage. Which is fine – if a little aggravating. In fact they have already ‘listened’ in that they themselves have brought forth an amendment removing their proposal to imprison an individual who breached a Drink Banning Order. Even they realised that to end up with a 5 year prison sentence for skipping down the street drunk and shouting might be seen as a little over the top.

Later we move onto Alcohol Disorder Zones. These are areas that can be designated by a local authority and the police where there is so much trouble from drinking establishments that they have become no go areas at night. The idea is that establishments within the zone to be designated have an opportunity to put forward a voluntary action plan, and if it works the zone isn’t imposed. But if it fails, it is. An imposed zone means establishments within it will be charged for extra policing or whatever.

The points of contention – given we agree with the principle of the polluter pays – are that good landlords will be treated same as bad, that there are perverse incentives for local authorities to view this as a way of raising money, that anywhere can be designated a Disorder Zone, that designating an area will stigmatise (or even worse, glorifying it for some?) and many, many other arguments about the proposals.

The Government seem not to be interested in anything other than sloganising that ‘we serve the lawful and that this legislation is targeted on the lawless’. Well yes – statement of the bleeding obvious in terms of what everyone wants as an outcome because we all have the same problems. But slogans aren’t the same as effective action. We already have so much legislation that the Government is not using properly regarding drinking and alcohol. It is already illegal to sell drink to the drunk (they never virtually prosecute). Local Authorities can revoke licenses (they rarely do). And new powers which come into force next month give police the powers to shut down premises.

But saying we want a new law gets cheap publicity points in a way that working to use existing laws properly don’t.

Liveliest moment of the day is when Labour MP Stephen Pound exits the backbenches of the Committee to find out who has gone through (or not) in the Tory leadership election that is taking place in the Committee Room next door – very noisily. He comes back and does a little mime – indicating a pregnant stomach and then slitting of throat – it is clear that Ken Clarke has got the chop!

Anyway – leave Parliament around 11pm having had one drink in one of the bars. A Labour member of the Committee was in there and called me over to say how well he thought I was handling it considering I had been thrown in the deep end – which I thought was very kind!

Violent Crime Reduction Bill – first committee stage

I left at the crack of dawn on Thursday to get to Commons at least an hour before having to go into committee for the first session on the Violent Crime Reduction Bill. I drive in today – thank goodness – as the radio gradually makes North London aware that the Northern Line is completely closed today.

Preparatory work done, I go to the committee and introduce myself to the Minister (Hazel Blears), who I shadow for the Lib Dems, and the chair – Eric Forth MP. And then we are off. Having had the sense to look how others have started off the sessions, at least I know that I have to stand – or rather indicate that I want to speak after the current speaker by half-shifting out of a sitting position so that the Chair will call me next.

The Minister moves the Programming Motion – which in fact we have agreed anyway the night before – but this is an opportunity to talk about absolutely nothing important for as long as the Chair will tolerate. At least that was my reading of it. The Minister was brief and to the point. The lead Tory was rather more fulsome – and to my surprise made an unprovoked attack on the Liberal Democrats referring to something a colleague had said some time back in another debate on another bill. Aha – I thought – so much for scrutiny of the Bill without the usual political nonsense. But it was just a tiny swipe – not worth worrying about really in the scale of attacks unleashed on us – the increasing scale of which I put down to our increasing success. Then I rise to do my bit – and welcome the Chair, look forward to a rigorous debate, express some concerns about the timing though welcome the Minister’s indication that she will be flexible about it.

Into the debate – and I am moving the first two amendments. In the section of the Bill on Drink Banning Orders (DBO) – which would mean an individual can be banned from a locality for between two months and two years – is to make sure that DBOs are not served on people such as those with mental health issues that mean they are not able to understand the orders and so would be liable to break them because they’re not able to understand them.

I suggest that the court should receive a report on the individual in question’s state of health – so that they can assess whether this falls into extremely vulnerable category. The Conservatives were supportive – though wanted more discretion for the court. My concern was that more discretion would result in the power not being used when it should. The Minister’s argument against us both was basically that it was too much paperwork and bureaucracy. What I hope – and what the Minister promised – is that this element will now be included in the guidance to the legislation when passed. And this is quite common in committee – you put down an amendment to prod the Government, the Government responds (hopefully sensibly!) and then you “ask leave to withdraw the amendment”. This means you don’t have a vote on the amendment itself, but you can submit it again at a latter stage – which is useful if, say, the Government says it will go away and think about an issue so that you know you can return to it latter.

We trudged on for a while longer working through the amendments – and then the time beat us and we had to adjourn until the next session next Tuesday. I know it may not be riveting stuff – but this is how legislation is made. There had been quite a few attacks on the Lib Dems from the Labour back benchers and the Minister during the arguments – mostly trying to suggest that only Labour have drunks lying in their streets and want them cleaned up. Of course – we have lots of problems here in Hornsey & Wood Green that we want cleared up – so that is completely ludicrous. I would have thought the purpose of all this arguing line by line was exactly that – to make sure the legislation is totally effective in targeting those who should be removed from an area – and leaving along and supporting those who might inadvertently be swept up by poorly written laws.

And that’s kind of how it works.

As I went out of Committee Room 12 to make my way to the Commons chamber I looked at my phone to find masses of missed calls. So I sit down outside the room to work through them. Many from TV stations asking me to come and discuss the issues around getting more women into politics. Not surprisingly, this is because of yesterday’s kafuffle. Finish round of calls and go to numerous other meetings including briefing for Any Questions the following night.

MPs, babysitters and cleaners

Just one of those days yesterday (Wednesday)! As I walk into Portcullis House (one of the office blocks for Parliamentarians and staff) my Head of Office hands me a copy of the Evening Standard.

The article was based on an attack by a local Labour councillor. He had taken a line from a training session I gave for women at our Blackpool Conference. What I had basically said was that as these days councillors get paid an allowance, women could think about using it to hire a cleaner or a babysitter – helping to free up their time so they have enough hours to do the work of a councillor on top of all their other commitments. Lord knows it is hard enough for a woman to get out of the house if she is a single parent, on low or no pay – and we need a much more diverse range of people to get into politics.

Cllr Richard Milner apparently wishes to keep women chained to the kitchen – and rather than supporting efforts to bring more women into politics, he preferred to try and score cheap shots about me advocating becoming a councillor in order to get a ‘free cleaner’. Labour should hand their heads in shame over this one. Clearly they don’t believe in equality of opportunity.

Of course he can choose to spend his councillor allowances on anything he likes. He just doesn’t believe women should have that right too! It’s true I can afford help without which I couldn’t do the job I do – but I am out there fighting so that women who cannot afford any help can also enter public life. We need more councillors and MPs for all walks of life and all ranges of personal circumstances, including more women. I had hoped that sexism was dying out – but apparently it’s alive and well in Labour Haringey!

Anyway – I am on the run – and go straight into our Home Affairs team meeting where we run through all the home affairs legislation pouring through Parliament at the moment. Run to Prime Minister’s Questions – unedifying exchange between Blair and Howard. Oh yes you will – oh no we won’t – sort of thing. As I come out and look at my mobile for messages – loads and loads. The Evening Standard sets the hare running – and then everyone wants to know about cleaning ladies and babysitters I am doing all this sitting in the Members’ lobby outside the chamber – and not a woman in sight amongst the comings and goings. I rest my case!

Then it’s Westminster Hall where hundreds of pensioners have gathered to lobby their MPs on the appalling levels of state pension compared with ever-rising outgoings – like Council Tax – hiked up by many more percent than a fixed income can cope with.

The guy on the desk shouts out through the microphone that I am here for any lobbyists from Hornsey & Wood Green. I am retrieved by a group who have come to make their views known. Of course I agree with almost everything they say and will raise the issues they bring to me with the Minister and with our own Work and Pensions Shadow Secretary – David Laws.

Then it’s the ‘Programming Meeting’ where the MPs from all parties who are taking the Violent Crime Reduction Bill through Parliament meet to decide how long the committee stage will be and how many sessions it will comprise. Both opposition parties make the point that the Government itself has put down loads of amendments to its own Bill and both of us have tabled loads too. So the seven sessions allocated may not be enough. However, we are all co-operating and the Minster agrees to be flexible if we need more time.

There has been no time for lunch today. But it’s off to my sister for dinner and when I get home – I have to pour over the Bill and clauses and amendments and arguments – so that I won’t make a fool of myself in Committee the next day…

How not to make legislation

Went to the gardens next door to Parliament to be photographed with a sheep (not real) for an RSPCA promotion of their ‘mark’ which will would signify food that has their approval ofr how the animals are treated. Realised after photographer had finished that I had stood at sheep’s rear end!

During questions today in Parliament I was desperate to get in on a question (somebody else’s) on British Transport Police. I wanted to ask the Minister what action he had taken since the controversy in summer over the use of stop and search powers on the rail network and the hugely disproportionate number of ethnic minority members being stopped.

Then statement in the House on Turkey’s accession to the EU. I was particularly interested in this as there’s a substantial Turkish community in Haringey and the issue of Cyprus very important to both the Turkish and Greek community here. From the statement, it became clear that there will be around 10 – 15 years while Turkey now tries to bring a whole raft of things in line with EU policy. There is no question that the Cyprus issue would have to be resolved and that its record on human rights would have to be vastly improved. It was equally clear that this must be the way forward – as Turkey’s desire to join the Union is the strongest motivator for improvement and resolution.

The bit of the debate I was less keen on was the constant reference by Straw to the EU being seen as a Christian club if a Muslim country such as Turkey (albeit pretty secular) was not admitted. I would have much preferred the debate to remain on the secular side as the EU should have no truck with using religion as a deciding factor on how to treat people or countries.

Later, Mr Speaker (Michael Martin) had invited new MPs to the Speaker’s House for a drink. Magnificent apartments! I talked to his chief of office for a while – and now understand better how I need to jump up and down to be called during question sessions. But it means jumping up and down all the time – even if it’s not really the question you want to be called on – so you end up risking getting called to speak on something you don’t want to talk about or staying sitting most of the time and not getting called at all.

It’s one of the macho things about the house I already can’t stand. Another is that the longer you talk, regardless of value of content of what you say, the better man you are. I had noticed in debates where speeches are limited to ten minutes that MPs nearly all talk for the entire ten minutes regardless – but not me! No doubt I am wrong to only say what I need to say; but call me old-fashioned – burbling endlessly is not a skill I intend to acquire.

Another bugbear is the way that legislation is brought forward and amended. You would not believe how archaic this is or that the age of technology had arrived.

Take the In Violent Crime Reduction Bill which is starting its committee stage starting on Thursday, You have the Bill, the Lib Dem amendments, the Tory amendments, the Government amendments, explanatory notes, selection order papers and so on – all which have to be to hand on each amendment. It would be SO SIMPLE to have an electronic version of the Bill with all the different amendments and information marked up on it in different colours. But no – another macho game is to make it much more complicated than it needs to be. Of course it does result – as we see all the time – in badly written legislation.

I whipped in to see the Labour whip on the committee to ask him about the programming motion (a 15 minute meeting on Wednesday to decide what and how long each bit should take). And he agrees with me about the presentation of bills and amendments – so cross party – perhaps … in the next century …

Concrecte factory – planning verdict

Parliament started sitting again today. It felt just like it did on the first day of term, going back to school!

Much of this week will be preparation for the Violent Crime Reduction Bill which goes into Committee on Thursday morning and on which I am leading for the Lib Dems. This means that I have (and more accurately my researcher has even more) been pouring over the bill and working out the amendments which we tabled last Friday. We will be probing the Government’s proposals line by line. And boy does this bill need close scrutiny. The general idea is right – to tackle the twin evils of weapons and alcohol abuse – but the devil is definitely in the detail.

At lunchtime I meet with an activist from Camden who wants to talk to me about why the party does not work the way he thinks it should work. He is an interesting guy, but for all of us in the party the way to get an idea through the hierarchy into being is to demonstrate that it works.

My own success in winning Hornsey & Wood Green from 26,000 votes behind in 1997 is now a training model in the party. But I had (with my magnificent team) to prove the case – not simply have the idea. And quite frankly much of it is common sense and already the bread and butter of our campaign techniques – no miracles. But there are a few specialities – and now hopefully best practise will be spread to the 104 seats where we are second to Labour for the next general election. So hopefully, I sent him off to prove his points to the party.

Then into the chamber for Home Office Questions – terror, terror, terror. It is quite clear that this Parliamentary session up to Christmas will be totally dominated by the terror proposals and other home affairs bills. Great for me as a shadow home affairs minister – but one heck of a schedule.

Rush to Haringey Civic Centre in the evening for the Planning Committee which tonight hears the application to build a Concrete Factory in Hornsey. For those not following this story – there is an application from London Concrete to put a factory right in the heart of a residential area with narrow streets and kids schools etc. Supported (wrongly) by Livingstone on the basis that the aggregates can come in by rail (three trains per week), what seems to have passed the Mayor by is that it then goes out through the community in 56 giant HGVs that have no chance of turning out of the industrial site into the residential streets without chocking up the traffic, delaying buses and causing huge amounts of pollution, noise and so on.

As I arrive there are hundreds and hundreds of local residents with lots of children come to protest. Hurrah for people power! T-shirts and placards – we shout and chant. Ironically, we all know that the Planning Committee is going to refuse the application tonight as that is the recommendation of the officers. And whilst I put in to speak along with scores of others – there is no need to call anyone as the committee unanimously votes to reject the application on a number of planning grounds.

The real test will now come as we move towards the appeal – already lodged. The fight goes on – until we bury this one – in concrete.

Learning how Parliament works

I’d asked one of the Commons Committee Clerks to come and brief me on the rules for Standing Committee as I will be leading for the Lib Dems on the Violent Crime Reduction Bill which goes into committee next Thursday.

The protocols of what you say, in what order you speak, when you stand, when you table amendments, at what point you can argue what and so on is much of a mystery to me at the moment as I’ve not yet done such a bill. So I have invited an expert to walk me through the procedure – which he does.

Lots to learn and lots of pitfalls for me to descend into! He then takes me and Mette (my Parliamentary Researcher) over to the Bills Office to introduce me so that I can ‘introduce’ Mette. This is a formal procedure without which they will not accept amendments from Mette (as opposed to me personally going over there). Doncha just love those quaint customs! Actually – this one probably has a point – i.e. no one can masquerade as me or Mette to put down amendments to the bill. Can’t imagine there would be a queue of fraudsters – but best to err on the safe side.

Then I have a meeting with a woman who has come at my request to brief me further on mental health issues. She, herself, suffers from schizophrenia. She obviously knows both from being a campaigner in this area as well as a user of the services all about where to go and how to get help. Invaluable.

Followed by a meeting with the Beer and Pub Association who want to discuss the Violent Crime Reduction Bill with me. Half of the bill is about how to deal with alcohol disorder – both by banning individuals from areas and also making areas with lots of disorder ‘Alcohol Disorder Zones’. This is a real legislative mess and so broadly drawn as to leave almost every decision up to the Home Secretary. Controlling or what? I agree with much of their lobbying – but not all.

Then off to my surgery in Hornsey Vale Community centre where – as always – I am constantly amazed by the range of problems that present. Finish at 7pm and go to my constituency office to sign things.

Get home about 9pm to watch the news on the Tory beauty parade – a misnomer if ever there was one. As my daughter said to me – if you had to sleep with one of them who would you choose?

Seriously though – I think David Davis must have given a sweetener to party organisers to put Cameron and Clarke on the same day. Both gave a good show – but Cameron made Clark look old and Clark made Cameron look wet behind the ears. Never-the-less DD has a bit of a show to put on when he speaks – or else.

Violent Crime Reduction Bill

Spend a good part of the day going through the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, for which I will be leading for the Lib Dems when it goes through its committee stage in Parliament.

Committee is where legislation is scrutinised line by line. It’s a bit like being a lawyer having to argue the case for each point. Well many of them are lawyers in the Commons – but not me, so am preparing carefully. (The Parliament website has an explanation of how bills go through Parliament and what the stages are).

Then to the Tottenham Law Centre to address their AGM. Interestingly enough they have a motion to change the name to ‘Haringey Law Centre’ as it does serve a much wider catchment than just Tottenham, including serving people in my own constituency. Really good to talk to everyone as so much of the angst that walks through my surgery door is about housing or immigration. Once an individual falls foul of the system in either of these areas (which is easy to do) it isn’t long before it is a legal matter over eviction or deportation. And that’s when I send them onto the CAB or the Tottenham Law Centre. Legal advice is so vital and so expensive, and there has been such a cut back to legal aid, that law centres and citizens’ advice bureaus are absolutely vital!

Crime figures

Up early to be at Sky News crack of dawn to speak for the Lib Dems as the latest crime figures are published today.

There are two sets: the British Crime Survey which is a massive survey of people and how many crimes they have experienced. These figures show overall crime is reducing – including violent crime, which is down by 11%.

The other set of figures published is from the police, and shows the numbers of crimes recorded by them. As these are absolute figures rather than a survey they might seem more accurate – but they are very dependent on the rules for recording crime and a change in the rules can make a big change in the numbers even if reality hasn’t changed. One example – when the police got much better at taking rape seriously there were big increases in the figures for rape – because they were recording and investigating more – not because there was a big leap in rape.

The recorded crime figures also record crime dropping – but violent crime up 6%. So it is obvious to me that the story will be the difference between these two figures.

As indeed it is!

It strikes me that as 48% of violent crime is alcohol related that the Government might just pause for thought about relaxing the licensing laws and introducing 24 hour drinking just at this moment in time.

The problem with the Government’s Violent Crime Reduction Bill is it does the ‘tough on crime’ bit of the equation – but doesn’t have any measures to address the seemingly British malaise where young people drink themselves to oblivion on a Friday and Saturday night.

Whilst I am personally in favour of changing licensing hours so all the pubs don’t empty out at the same time – the timing of Labour’s licensing plans really isn’t smart.

Spend much of the morning yoyo-ing between the Commons and doing media interviews. Then back to the Commons to gen up on what’s in the papers ready to go back to Millbank to the Beeb for the Daily Politics show with Andrew Neil.

My only encounter thus far with him was during the General Election of 2001 when Sky did a late night program on ‘rising stars’ on which I went with a Labour and Conservative equivalent. At that time I was a distant third hoping to rise to second in the election. I remember Neill saying something derogatory about the Lib Dems – like well you’re only a Lib Dem so who cares what you say. And I remember giving as good as I got! He loved it.

The other thing I remember about that night was outside of the studio I spoke to a psephologist who was pontificating on the election and is likely swings and directions. He asked me what I was hoping for – and I said ‘obviously to win – but a good second would be an achievement in itself’. He said he would eat his hat if I even got into second place. I swept magnificently into second place – but sadly couldn’t remember this guy’s name to recontact him with a view to watching said spectacle of hat-eating ceremony!

Anyway – today we will be discussing Muslim communities and retired people abroad getting winter fuel allowances. Neill starts by having a go (as it is the last day of the Parliamentary term) about the so-called long holidays MPs have.

Bollocks to that – I have only had a couple of days off since going back after Christmas, I do a seven-day week, and weekdays are usually 10 to 18 hour days. So pooh to you Andrew Neill. He is unmoved – and obviously thinks all MPs do nothing. He says he will come and check on me in the constituency and I say just fine!

I think the only way political pundits will be happy is if we have no holidays, reduce our pay, cut our staff and office allowances and expenses and I hear that Marks and Sparks do a good line in hair shirts!

David Davis joins us for a section of the show and for reasons that remain a complete mystery to me spends the entire time of his interview refusing to admit that he is going to stand for the leadership of the Tory Party. Completely bonkers.

Rush back to Commons for lunch with someone who wants to discuss the future of the Liberal Democrat party with me! My researcher appears to tell me that 4 bombs have gone off – or more accurately 4 detonators have gone off which appear to have failed to detonate the bombs themselves – thank God. Much evidence will therefore be available to the police and security forces.

Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill – committee stage

First experience of Committee Stage proceedings at Parliament – this is part of the legislative passage through the Commons of a Bill. Today it is the first session on the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill. Alistair Carmichael – my LibDem colleague – is leading for us in committee and I am his number two. The idea is that I learn the ropes so that when I lead the Violent Crime Reduction Bill through Committee stage in the Autumn I will know what I am doing.

The first thing that strikes me is that I need to be a lawyer. The whole process imitates court proceeding where each line of the proposed Bill is examined – with amendments laid down on virtually every point. Each amendment is then ‘moved’ (introduced verbally) by the person (and therefore party) who has laid down that particular amendment. All sides then argue the case on each point – point by point – and from what I could see – at extreme length.

So far so good!

The Bill is (in my view) a well-meaning attempt by the Government to try and stop people inciting people to hate other people because of their religious beliefs – that is hatred of the believer not the belief.

My experience of religion (as an agnostic) is that quite a lot of religion, although not necessarily practised as preached, is about hating others and condemning those with different beliefs. And therein lies the difficulties in this Bill. Quite what is it that should be protected – and what is it that people shouldn’t be able to do?

Labour say they want to make things equal in terms of the fact that Jews and Sikhs are covered by the existing legislation. But that’s because Jews (and Sikhs) are different to all other religions in that the religion is inseparable from the race. The counter argument is that the law covers all races and for them it covers them if the incitement is racial – but not religious.

Lib Dems have put what is called the ‘Lester Amendment’ which helps the Bill give protection to what we believe the Bill is actually aimed at – Muslims who post 9/11 have suffered abuse and hatred in its wake. The proposition is that they are being attacked as ‘Muslims’ but the hatred is really racially motivated rather than religiously motivated. Therefore the amendment seeks to cover those who use religion as a ‘proxy’ for racial hatred. But it keeps freedom of speech – including the ability to disagree with and criticise people’s religious beliefs.

Ok – I am not going to try and describe the ins and outs of each of the four sessions – but you can see the way this is going.

Violent Crime Reduction Bill

Big day – as ‘my’ Bill (the Violent Crime Reduction Bill) is getting its second reading today. I won’t have to lead on the floor of the Commons as our Shadow Home Secretary, Mark Oaten, will do that. But I will have to speak and get a grip on the debate so that when I lead for the Lib Dems as the bill goes through its committee stage I will know what I am doing and where the debate is.

(If you’re wondering what second readings and committee stages are, there’s an explanation of how laws pass through Parliament at www.libdems.org.uk/parliament/legislation.html).

But first I have lunch with the Evening Standard lobby correspondent. He seems really OK. Have worked with lots of journalists from the ES and they have all been great – so far.

Then (barring quick press conference on the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill) off to the chamber for the debate on the Violent Crime Reduction Bill. Basically this bill tries to address the twin rising problems of alcohol and weapons. In a typically Labour way – some of it is right, but some of it is gesture ‘tough on crime’ politics.

For example – there is a proposal to stiffen the laws around the manufacture, sale and carrying of imitation firearms. I totally agree with the general intent of this. However – the bit on carrying states that the sentence will be raised from 6 months to 12 months. So I make an intervention whilst Charles Clarke (Home Secretary) is introducing the proposals to ask why a 6 month stiffening? What work has been done to estimate the reduction in carrying that that particular length of sentence will deliver?

Basically – it’s all speculative says Charles. Hmm – not an impressive way to make laws! (You can read the exchange in Hansard).

OK – so what would I have done to establish this before guestimating an addition to the sentence? I would have first established how many people had been done for carrying and what sentences they had (in fact I have a Parliamentary Question down on this). I would have gone back to them to survey whether they had any idea of what sentence was on the books, how much of deterrent it was, etc.

Anyway – the main area of disaster in these proposals is the plan for Alcohol Disorder Zones. If there is a lot of drunken, abusive and criminal behaviour in a particular location, the Local Authority and the Police will have the power to create an area where all those inside deemed to have alcohol as their main trade (a minefield in itself) will have eight weeks in which to produce an action plan and improve. But if they don’t – a levy will be imposed to pay for extra policing.

Fine in principle – polluter pays. Love it. But – good landlords will be treated same as bad (and probably move to a better area). The area will get a name as a ‘no go’ area – and people (consumers) will stop going there. Property values will plummet. And so on.

So – sounds a good idea at first – but not thought through. But as I say – the thrust of the Bill to get a grip on the British malaise of drinking yourself to oblivion on a Friday night is right. But as ever with Labour – there is no other side to the equation: examining why people drink themselves stupid, why it is a status symbol to carry a knife or a gun – and so on.

When the great reforming legislation on drink driving and wearing a seatbelt came into being – the Government put immense resource behind the message it was sending out about irresponsible behaviour. The resource was both in enforcement of the legislation yet also the huge educational and advertising campaigns that accompanied the change in the law. Labour is still shallow in its intent and will. Right message – lack of real depth to deliver change!

And I said so in my speech!