Category: Binge Drinking

Business and Planning Bill

My Lords, I support Amendment 11 in the name of my noble friend Lord Balfe. Clause 3(2) states:

“Before making a determination in respect of the application”

for a pavement licence,

“the local authority must … take into account any representation made to it … consult the highway authority … and other persons as the local authority may consider appropriate.”

I support having input from the people and organisations stated, but I feel that it is necessary for the local police to be consulted in making a determination.

To reiterate what I said at Second Reading, I welcome the Bill, which will trigger the revitalisation of our businesses and help the well-being of the people. As a businessman, I would like the economy to pick up and create employment for all the people who have been idle for the last few months. However, my concern is the safety of staff and the nuisances and disturbances ?caused on pavements and streets and in neighbourhoods. Before the pandemic, we saw young men and women misbehaving and fighting in the streets on Friday and Saturday nights. I used to see this happening when driving through towns at night. My concern is that people have been frustrated over the last few months and that the relaxation of the rules will lead to social problems.

When the problems of anti-social behaviour arise, they will be dealt with by the police on the spot. Local police know the hot spots in their areas where problems are likely to flare up. To alleviate the issues and possible problems, we need consultation and input from local police when an application is made for a pavement licence. I appreciate that the police have powers to issue closure notices, but this is like closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is therefore important that the police are consulted before the problems arise.

 

In response, Baroness Williams of Trafford said: 

To answer my noble friend Lord Sheikh and the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, the Government expect that this would include the local police force, but believe that the local authority can and should use its discretion and local knowledge to decide who to consult. To answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, directly: yes, we have spoken to the police. We have engaged with them throughout. The most recent time that I spoke directly to Martin Hewitt was last Friday, just before we went into super Saturday. We will continue to engage with them throughout.

 

Lord Sheikh on Amendment 25: 

My Lords, I support Amendment 25 relating to the two requirements that have been stated. I reiterate what I said when I spoke on Amendment 11: I support the Bill, which will trigger the revitalisation ?of our businesses and help the well-being of the people. However, it is necessary for us to implement the changes with caution. My concern is safety of passage and accessibility by blind and disabled persons. In addition, of course, all pedestrians must be able to pass without hindrance where there is a gathering of customers outside a restaurant or pub.

Blind persons have felt less independent since the lockdown rules were implemented and, if there is an increase in street furniture, blind and partially sighted people may be forced to walk in the road, change their route, avoid travelling independently or even stay at home. Street furniture will present additional challenges and should be marked off with an accessible barrier. The idea of marking off the areas will ensure accessibility. Furthermore, if the appropriate distances are maintained, it will help pedestrians to walk without difficulty and prevent the spread of the virus. Adequate spacing will also enable disabled persons to go through without much difficulty.

As a Muslim, my other concern is the passage of Muslim ladies who may be subjected to harassment, particularly if they are wearing a hijab, niqab or burka. Most hate-crime incidents happen in the street and if the accessibility and passage of these ladies are blocked or hindered in any way, my concern is that they may be picked on by customers, especially if they have had a lot to drink. I have been informed by Fiyaz Mughal and Iman Atta of Tell MAMA that, since the lockdown was eased, there has been a spike in the number of cases where Muslim women have been abused and spat at in the street. In fact, I have been told by Tell MAMA that there has been a threefold increase in hate crimes against Muslims, and some of the incidents are unfortunately nasty and aggressive. I hope that the Minister will agree to Amendment 25.

 

Lord Sheikh on Amendment 18:

My Lords, I will speak in favour of this amendment, which I wholeheartedly support.

I remind noble Lords that smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, strokes and other illnesses. Smoking causes harm to smokers as well as being a danger to others. When a person smokes, most of the smoke does not go in his or her lungs but is in the air, meaning that anyone can breathe it, with dire consequences. It was therefore decided not to allow people to smoke indoors, but this rule should now be followed by customers who are outside the premises.

If smoking is allowed on the pavement outside the premises, there will be a danger, not only to smokers but to other customers and pedestrians passing by. There will also be a danger to the staff who are serving the customers, as they will be affected by second-hand smoke. Over 85% of the British population are non-smokers. They do not like others to smoke near them, as they feel that they will be subjected to passive smoking. I hope that this amendment is accepted.

 

Lord Sheikh on the sale of alcohol:

My Lords, I was going to speak in favour of Amendment 27 but, in the light of what my noble friend the Minister said earlier, I will speak in favour of Amendments 30, 32 and 35. The issue that worries me is how alcohol is sold to be taken away. It should be sold in sealed containers. If it is sold in glasses, these should be plastic, not beer or wine glasses. I am worried that glass can be used to cause injury to others.

We have seen how people behaved in the streets on Friday and Saturday nights before the lockdown. There were fights at night which police, ambulance staff and hospitals had to deal with. It is not only men; women also misbehave when they have too much to drink. I used to go to the City of London, as I had an office there. I used to see business and professional people who were sober and well-behaved during the day but who behaved badly after consuming alcohol. I therefore support the amendments which I referred to.

 

Link to full debate on Hansard. 

Queen’s Speech – Debate (Binge Drinking)

My Lords, the subjects of home, legal and constitutional affairs touch the lives of every single citizen in the United Kingdom and have been of much policy interest in recent years. I should like to focus on the problems of binge drinking, which has created a major headache for large numbers of people, has disastrous health consequences for a number of people, and is partly responsible for a crime epidemic that lies at the heart of much misery in our country.

Although I am a teetotaller, I am not suggesting that people should totally abstain from drinking, but I am sure that we would all like to see people drinking in moderation and behaving responsibly. If you go to any town centre on a Friday or Saturday night, what do you see? You see people drinking excessively, fighting among themselves, confronting the police and security staff, causing property damage and dirtying the streets. This type of behaviour is unacceptable and needs to be corrected urgently.

The cost of binge drinking in the United Kingdom is estimated to amount to around £20 billion. This includes the cost of alcohol-related illness and crime, the cost incurred by the police and local authorities, industry and the National Health Service. Figures produced by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of alcohol-related deaths in the United Kingdom doubled between 1991 and 2006, with a 4 per cent increase between 2005 and 2006 to 8,758 in that year.

Deaths occur due to a variety of obvious causes such as liver problems and not-so-evident causes such as different kinds of cancers. In addition, alcohol plays a major role in crime and different types of disorders. There are of course bodily injuries and the cost of damage to property relating to such activities is in excess of £8 billion a year. Numerous road traffic accidents are the result of excessive alcohol consumption and hundreds of people are killed or maimed, and there is of course damage to vehicles and other properties. Drinking alcohol results in a number of domestic violence cases and in people being absent from work. There is also a problem relating to excessive drinking among teenagers and children, and a number of school children have been suspended for drinking alcohol in schools.

I should declare that I am in the insurance industry, and a considerable number of the claims that we deal with are due to excessive consumption of alcohol. These claims relate to personal injury and property damage.

One reason for the increase of binge intoxication is the gradual increase in the alcohol content of wines, beers and particularly lagers. Twenty years ago, the average alcohol content of beers and lagers was 3.5 per cent or 4 per cent. Now these drinks have alcohol content of 5 per cent or 5.5 per cent. In certain lagers the alcohol content could be as much as 8 per cent.

It seems inconceivable to me and to a great number of other people that the Government appeared so relaxed about the introduction of 24-hour drinking. Indeed, the vice-chairman of the Police Federation recently commented that,

“the Government didn’t stop to think of the consequences of its actions when it introduced round the clock drinking”.

This measure has put enormous strain on the resources of the police and has been responsible for an explosion in the number of incidents of anti-social behaviour. I should like to see a reversal of the Government’s unleashing of 24-hour drinking on our towns and cities by providing local authorities with the discretion to apply powers as they see appropriate. Local authorities are best placed to consider the particular needs of the communities that they serve, and they are accountable to those electorates. I should appreciate the Minister’s response to this suggestion.

We need to take action to address the problem of loss-leader sales of alcohol, where alcohol is sold below the cost price. A proper review of the alcohol duty regime would be helpful, with a particular view to increasing the duty on those drinks most associated with binge drinking—alcopops, super-strength beers and super-strength ciders. More effective use of the tax system to tackle binge drinking should be considered. I would kindly ask the Minister to comment on the matter of taxation in this regard.

I hope also that the Minister will be in a position to update the House on what steps are being taken as a consequence of the recent alcohol price, promotion and harm review conducted earlier in the year. The Government have reported that they received more than 3,300 representations on the Department of Health’s proposals for the introduction of a mandatory code of practice for the alcohol industry. Although it is not possible to calculate the exact costs of treating alcohol-related conditions, it is estimated that the cost of treatment drugs has doubled in the past 10 years. The Alcohol Needs Assessment Research Project, published in November 2005, found that in 2003-04, a total of £217 million was being spent by the National Health Service and local authorities on specialist alcohol treatment, treating some 63,000 people for alcohol-related disorders. It is estimated that around 1.1 million people were actually dependent on alcohol.

We need to consider carefully how best we can tackle the scourge of alcoholism in this country. The UK Alcohol Treatment Trial has estimated that for every pound spent on alcohol treatment, the public sector saves £5. Yet the problem of binge drinking appears to be growing out of control. In April of this year, the number of people receiving structured treatment for alcohol misuse was 44,863, according to the Government, and the consequential costs that all of us are having to bear are spiralling.

It is apparent that we have a major problem and that the Government themselves have recognised that more action needs to be taken. I hope that the Minister can provide more assurance that appropriate action will be taken. We are looking forward to receiving details of the proposed measures. I would certainly welcome co-ordinated measures which give local authorities powers to ban “happy hours”, all-you-can-drink offers and other price promotions. We should like to see cigarette-type health warnings in the media and cans and bottles must show alcohol unit content. Some of the supermarkets and retailers are selling alcohol at a cheap price and we need to consider banning the sale of alcohol at less than cost price.

Finally, it would be welcome if we considered introducing compulsory training for staff in any premises selling alcohol. At present, this training is voluntary, but we need to think about making this mandatory.