HC Deb 27 July 1976 vol 916 cc540-9
Mr. Teddy Taylor

I beg to move Amendment No. 66, in page 50, line 28, at end insert— '(2A) A person under 18 shall not be in possession of or consume alcoholic liquor in any public place'. This amendment is important. The Minister will recall that no hon. Members spoke in Committee against my proposition, which was that it should be unlawful for any person under the age of 18 to be in possession of or to consume alcoholic liquor in a public place.

The clause provides that a licence holder shall not in licensed premises sell alcoholic liquor to a person under 18, or allow a person under 18 to consume alcoholic liquor in a bar, nor shall the holder of the licence allow any person to sell alcholic liquor to a person under 18. There is also the provision that A person under 18 shall not in licensed premises buy or attempt to buy alcoholic liquor nor consume alcoholic liquor in a bar. Although licence holders are not allowed to sell drink to people under 18 and under-18s are not allowed to consume alcohol on licensed premises, underage drinking is a serious problem in Scotland—and there are indications that it is becoming worse. Often a youngster aged 19 will buy a substantial quantity of drink from an off-licence shop for his many friends who may be as young as 14. They will go to a public place—in Glasgow it is usually a park—and they will hold a drunken party. The police will see a crowd of youngsters with drink in their possession but they can do nothing. The Secretary of State may say that they can do something. If so, he should correct me.

My friends in the police are anxious because they are totally powerless to act if they see a crowd of youngsters with drink in their possession. Anyone who lives in an area with parks knows that this is a desperately serious problem. Any morning when walking in a park with their kids people can see large numbers of beer cans and bottles scattered about the place.

The Scottish Police Federation has suggested making it unlawful for young persons under the age of 18 to be in possession of drink in a public place. In Committee, the Minister was always sympathetic and reasonable and he said that he would examine the suggestion. He said: At present, we are in discussion with the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland about the implications of the creation of a new office along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Cathcart. I ask for the cooperation of the Committee, as I have had throughout the Bill, on this matter also, in that the matter is not pressed while our discussions with the association proceed. I will advise the hon. Member for Cathcart about the outcome of the discussions and about the Government's intention on Report, and I give him and the Committee the assurance that, if it is possible to put down an amendment on Report that will meet his point, we shall either offer that amendment to him or put it down ourselves.—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 22nd June 1976; c. 625.] I received a letter from the Minister, dated 22nd July, saying: I informed the Committee during the debate on your amendment to create a new offence that we had consulted the Association of Chief Police Officers. In the light of our consultations and further consideration of the matter we have decided against putting down an amendment. Since your own amendment is on the Order Paper again we shall have an opportunity to debate this further point on Report. The Minister did not say that it could not he done. In view of the clear assurance given in Committee, is he now saying that it is not possible to nut down an amendment to meet the point or that he has thought about it and decided not to do so? If he does not want to do so, I wonder why.

I can think of the possible problems. For example, the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) might want to send one of his children round with a bottle of brandy to his old granny, who might need it for medicinal reasons. It might be said that it would be an outrage if the youngster were apprehended by the police and locked up. That presumably could happen under a strict interpretation of the law, but a sensible fiscal would see that it did not. A charge probably would not be proceeded with. But something could be done about a group of rowdy youngsters having a drunken party in a public park or on their way to such a party.

If the Minister is serious about wanting to do something about the problem of teenage drinking, we must have a provision along the lines I suggest. The police need stronger powers. I very much doubt whether they would take action in the circumstances I have described if they had an explanation from the youngster or his parents.

I am glad to see the return to the Chamber of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McMillan), because I had his full support on this matter in Committee, where he said: The point made by my hon. Friend of the little boy going round with a bottle to his granny does not exist in my mind. What is in my mind is what is happening in Glasgow today—the consumption by under-18s in closes, parks and other places from where the rampage starts. It is the consumption of that drink by under-18s, it having been bought and supplied by over-18s, that concerns me."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 22nd June 1976; c. 625.] The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right in saying that it was a serious problem.

Mr. Tom McMillan

I think that I added that it would be better dealt with as a new offence.

Mr. Taylor

Yes, indeed, and it is a new offence that is the purpose of my amendment.

7.45 a.m.

My amendment provides for a new offence, and I hope that I shall have continued support for that proposal. The amendment suggests that a person under 18 shall not be in possession of or consume alcoholic liquor in any public place". That would make it an offence. We are dealing with Part VI of the Bill, which is headed "Offences", and Clause 68 is headed "Protection of young persons".

I represent a large housing scheme, as do many other hon. Members. When youngsters have taken drink, they go on rampages, breaking windows and making life intolerable for the majority of law-abiding decent citizens. We have to do something to protect youngsters from drink and also to protect the community from the consequences of youngsters consuming drink.

Has the Minister any other proposal? Will he try to deal with this problem through the social services, knowing that expenditure on the social services has been cut? Will he try to deal with it through the schools, knowing that expenditure on the schools has been cut?

We have to help to deal with what has become an urgent and serious problem for Scotland. We have the support of the Police Federation. I hope that the House will support the amendment.

Mr. Harry Ewing

As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) has said, he suggested this amendment in Committee, and it is equally true that he kindly agreed to withdraw it in order that I could continue the discussions that I was then having with the Association of Police Officers. The problem is not that of creating a new offence but of enforce ment once that new offence has been created. It is because of the problems of enforcement and the wider consideration of the police powers of stop and search, going way beyond possession of alcohol, that I decided not to table an amendment, as the hon. Member for Cathcart fairly said, and I advised him in writing of my decision.

I discussed the matter with the Association of Police Officers and with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. It was pointed out to me that there was already legislation of this kind not for alcohol but for tobacco. It is an offence for a youngster under 18 to be in possession of tobacco, but the police have found it impossible to enforce that and they strongly believe that to create a new offence along the lines on which, frankly, we were thinking would result in another provision that could not be enforced.

The hon. Member for Cathcart is stretching words a little when he says that his proposal has the support of the Police Federation. I am sure that he would be the first to admit that he is drawing on the booklet sent out by the Polic Federation in which there is a specific mention of the need for a new offence to be created against that background.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Will the hon. Gentleman read the extract?

Mr. Ewing

It is subject to interpretation and mine is that no policeman is anxious to create a new offence that cannot be enforced. That is the difficulty with this type of offence. I have discused the matter with the Association of Police Officers and the inspectorate and the advice we have been given is that enforcement is impossible.

It is not only a problem of youngsters drinking cheap wine in closes and so on. We also have youngsters who go on a picnic, for instance, with their parents, who may give them an occasional glass of wine. It is all very well to say that in those circumstances the police would not proceed with a charge if they were satisfied with the explanation, but that is a matter for speculation and creates sufficient doubt to convince me that I ought not to suggest an amendment and that I ought to resist the hon. Member's amendment.

Having said that, I wish to say that I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Member has said about the problem of under-age drinking. There are no easy answers. If there were, previous Governments would have found them. I give the assurance that we shall go on looking for an answer and I hope that when we find it, we shall be able to deal with the problem and enforce the solution.

Regretfully, I have to say that the solution proposed in the amendment is not the answer to this problem and that it cannot be enforced. For those reasons I hope that the hon. Member will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

I cannot agree with the Minister at all. He has put forward a number of arguments, one of which is the claim that this could not be enforced. Is he saying that we should not have this law because it would not be possible to stop all youngsters under 18 who are carrying drink in a public place?

The law says that we shall not drive at more than 30 mph in a built-up area. Many people drive over that limit all the time and the police do not stop them all. There are simply not enough police to do this. Nevertheless, it is a good thing to have that law because from time to time the police catch someone who is speeding and take him to court.

The same applies to youngsters who are in possession of drink in public places. From time to time the police will see a crowd of bad youngsters and they will have the powers to stop them. Is the Minister arguing that we should not have an offence unless all the offenders can be caught? It has never been suggested that we cannot pass a law unless we can apply it to everyone.

In some areas of Scotland youngsters with drink are becoming a major public nuisance and the police have no powers to do anything about it. I challenge the Minister to tell me what the police in Glasgow, for example, can do if they see 10 youngsters, aged about 15, walking towards a park, in possession of five bottles of whisky, three bottles of gin and 20 cans of beer. Have they any powers to anything at all? If they do have the powers to confiscate the drink, then obviously we do not need this amendment, but my understanding is that they have no powers at all.

The Minister said that I interpreted the Police Federation pamphlet rather widely. Unfortunately I do not have my copy with me. But it is a bit thick for the Minister to say that my interpretation is incorrect unless he can produce a copy of the pamphlet and tell me to what extent I am wrong. All I can say is that my reacting of the pamphlet is that the Police Federation is in favour of the police having powers to stop youngsters from carrying drink in public places. I have also spoken to a large number of policemen, and they would like these powers.

The Minister must not underestimate the extent to which the police are fed up with their lack of powers for dealing with these youngsters. I do not want to start an acrimonious discussion on this matter, but the Minister should realise that the police are getting fed up to the teeth. My amendment would give them the power to confiscate the liquor and to have fined the youngsters who cause a public nuisance of this kind.

The Minister must not underestimate the effect on vandalism. Youngsters get drunk and then go on the rampage, threatening the lives and property of decent people. The Minister says that he can do nothing about it but that he will keep on looking for solutions in case one can be found. But if he accepts the amendment, what harm can it do? Does it bring the law into disrepute because it can he applied to everyone but someone might drink in a public place and get away with it? If that is the case, the 30 m.p.h. limit is an affront to the law. I am not convinced by what the Minister said and I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

Would it cause a great deal of inconvenience? Would it cause any offence to anyone? The Minister asked what would happen to the family in the park where the father offers his youngster a glass of wine. How stupid does the Minister think the police are? Is he saying that the police will go on raiding parties looking for fathers giving glasses of wine to their children? The police want this power so that they can apprehend the rowdies and young thugs who, after a drink, become young savages. They want to be able to confiscate their drink.

If the Minister's only argument is that the police will hide behind bushes in parks and watch for fathers giving a glass of wine to their children, that is a very poor argument. He did not say very much about the discussions with the chief police officers. He said that they thought that there was no case for making the change. But did they say that they would be angry if it were done? The amendment is a good amendment which will strengthen the police and play a small part in removing a very serious nuisance in areas such as the city of Glasgow.

Mr. Tom McMillan

I find myself in the same dreadful position as in Committee in that I agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). He has highlighted one of the greatest problems among young people, particularly in Glasgow. I have declared before that my wife has an interest in a shop with an off-licence section and I have known of happenings there for some three years. Youngsters under 21 are not served and they set out to get their own back. The local policeman, who knows them and knows their ages, stops them outside the shop where they claim to have purchased drink for themselves. The shop proprietor says that he did not serve the youth, but to get his own back for being refused drink the youth insists that he did. In that way shopkeepers can become the victims of youngsters whom they have refused to serve.

This is particularly a problem in Garthamlock, Ruchazie and Craigend where youngsters get drunk and attack policemen. They run rampage in the place, smashing windows and vandalising. Yet it is not an offence for them to carry the drink that causes all the trouble.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart that something must be done about this problem. It is a growing problem, not something that is static. If we do not act now, we shall be in a desperate situation.

8.0 a.m.

Mr. Harry Ewing

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) must not go on saying that the police want this offence. I have advised the House that the police, through the chief constables and the inspectorate, have told us that they do not want the offence. That is why there is no amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend to provide this offence.

We have discussed this matter with the Association of Chief Police Officers. Like the hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members, it recognises the problem of under-age drinking. However, the hon. Gentleman did not apply his mind to the problem that the police have in enforcing the existing law. That was the strongest evidence that was laid before us—namely, that the police could not enforce existing legislation. The chief constables and the inspectorate considered that they could not meet the sort of legislation that is now proposed. There were discussions and advice was given. That is why the Government decided to proceed in the manner that I have outlined.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

We discussed this matter in Committee, and I made it clear that in my view the Scottish Police Federation, which represents all the serving officers in Scotland not of the rank of inspector, had taken the view that it wanted this offence. The Minister said that in his view there was some doubt about the pamphlet that was produced. I have had correspondence with the Scottish Police Federation and it has told me that it was pleased with what I was doing in raising the matter. My view is that the federation wants the amendment.

The Minister has said that he is taking this issue seriously. Did he take the trouble to ask the federation what its views were? He said that he was in touch with the chief constables, but in view of the discussions in Committee, has he consulted the federation that represents all the police in Scotland except for the chief constables and the boys at headquarters? I think it is fair to describe it as representing all representative policemen. Did he ask the federation for its views?

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 9, Noes 35.

[For Division List No. 292 see col. 619.]

Question accordingly negatived.

Sir John Gilmour

I beg to move Amendment No. 67, in page 51, line 27, after 'person', insert 'knowingly'.

Good morning, Mr. Speaker. I trust that you had a pleasant night.

Mr. Speaker

I realise that the Scots take drink seriously, but I did have a good night.

Sir John Gilmour

That certainly adds to our pleasure.

Long before we started discussions on this Bill I had talks with the licence holders in my constituency who are worried about the difficulties they experience in knowing whether people are of an age to be served with drink. The sort of publicity that has recently been given to lowering the age of consent in other matters shows what difficulty a licence holder has in assessing the age of persons who come into his premises.

It may well be that the provisions of Clause 71, which refer to Clauses 68(1), 68(5), 69(1) and 70, give the licence holder adequate protection. If that is so I should be glad to have the confirmation of the Secretary of State to that effect.

8.15 a.m.

Mr. Millan

The hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) in moving the amendment identified the assurances that are already in the Bill. I confirm that the points he mentioned are dealt with and that the amendment is unnecessary.

Sir John Gilmour

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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