HC Deb 25 April 1978 vol 948 cc1197-200

4.15 p.m.

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the clarification of the law relating to the use of intoxicating liquor as a prize. I beg leave of the House to present a short Bill to clarify a narrow part of our licensing laws. Before you, Mr. Speaker, or any other hon. Members react anxiously at the thought of tampering with the drink laws, let me explain that I am not seeking to implement any recommendations of the 1972 Erroll Report, although I personally feel strongly that a reform of our restrictive and complicated licensing laws is very much overdue.

What I seek to do today is to effect a small exemption clause in the Licensing Act 1964 so as to allow a common and widespread practice to be brought within the law.

At present, as the law stands, anybody offering liquor as a prize in a draw or tombola unless he has secured a justices' licence is breaking the law. Most hon. Members, or their wives, attend functions each week at which they perform the drawing of winning tickets. Sometimes we find ourselves winning a prize and often feel constrained to put it back to be drawn again.

A large number of these draws or raffles are in aid of worthy charitable causes. Anybody connected with such organisations, as most hon. Members are, will know of the vast amounts of money raised in this way for national and local voluntary campaigns. I must point out that so far as I am aware there has been little or no interference with these activities by the police authorities, certainly in regard to actual prosecutions.

However, in December of last year I was approached by a constituency charity organiser, Mr. Ken Mullins, who is also a local JP, who complained that his fund-raising organisation "Teddy Charities"—nothing to do, incidentally, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—an organisation which raises a great deal of money for various disablement organisations in the area, had to curtail its use of liquor as prizes for bottle stalls at charity fetes and fairs. This followed advice which he had received from the Devon and Cornwall police authority that such a use of liquor prizes was illegal in that it constituted a "sale" of intoxicating liquor in unlicensed premises.

The action which started up the whole inquiry was the reported closing of a bottle stall at a local fete at Heles School, Exeter. The perhaps over-enthusiastic police constable training at the Police Training College was perfectly within his rights in pointing out that the law as it stood had to be effected in this way. Although prosecutions have not been made, advice has been issued by the police authorities stating the facts as they stand.

Not all that long ago there was a hoo-hah about drink provided at all those wine-and-cheese functions and other social occasions. It was clearly then decided that a justices' licence—an "occasional licence", as it is called—is required when these functions take place on unlicensed premises.

My case was not quite as clear cut as that. Nevertheless, I could see that although the police authorities would not wish to interfere with worthwhile charity activities, if asked to intervene they would have to state the law as they saw it. I thought that the best course of action was to write to the Home Office to obtain clarification. As is so often the case when. Members of Parliament write to that Department, the answer was very disappointing. The hon. Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), who is the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, took two months to inform me: The question whether a person who offers intoxicating liquor as a prize in a draw or game of chance, could be regarded as selling the liquor without a justices' licence and thereby guilty of an offence is a question of law which can ultimately only be decided by the courts. It is not one on which the Home Secretary can express an authoritative opinion. The hon. Lady went on to state in her letter that there was no prospect at present of early Government legislation on this subject.

However, on 28th January, a week previous to the Home Office letter, an article appeared in the law Journal, Justice of the Peace, dealing specifically with the question of liquor prizes. Because of increased interest in this matter, the editors had asked Mr. J. N. Martin, editor of "Paterson's Licensing Acts", to examine, as they put it the growing phenomenon, the use of alcoholic liquor as a prize or stimulus to sales". I shall not attempt to go into the details of that article, except to say that it confirms that the exchange of a ticket or payment constitutes a sale or transaction, comes within the Licensing Act 1964, Sections 160 and 196, and therefore requires a justices' licence for that sale.

I then went to the deputy chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Constabulary and I received a letter which clearly stated the following: I have to inform you that in my view if intoxicating liquor is offered as a prize in a draw, it is unlawful in as much as it constitutes a sale". He went on to reiterate that the police did not go looking for this type of offence, but finished by stating: However, when advice has been sought, it is up to us to state the law as it appears to us Therefore, having with my layman's eye carefully examined the legal aspects of this widespread practice, I am convinced that the Home Secretary's advice that the courts should clarify this matter is wrong. The legal precedents indicate to me that the courts would support the police view.

My Bill—which I hope the Government will support and the House will speed on its way—seeks very simply to remove any doubt about the nature of such prizes. The one-clause Bill will provide that, For the avoidance of doubt, the use of intoxicating liquor as a prize in any form of competition, gaming, lottery or other amusement shall not be regarded as a sale, exposure for sale, or a transaction in the nature of a sale of the Licensing Act 1964". I know that hon. Members would not wish to have to decline the purchase of draw and raffle tickets at the various functions they attend, and certainly they would not wish to curtail the essential fund-raising activities of the many thousands of charities which help the handicapped and elderly. I therefore ask the House to support the introduction of this short Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Hannam, Mr. Graham Page, Mr. Peter Mills, Mr. Tim Sainsbury, Mr. John Moore, Mr. Alan Clark and Mr. Jerry Wiggin.

  1. LIQUOR PRIZES 51 words
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