HC Deb 12 January 1978 vol 941 cc1847-9
15. Mr. Craig

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland why it has been decided to facilitate by a change in the law the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages at sport and leisure centres without reference to and in advance of a review of the licensing laws currently being made by a committee which he appointed.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James A. Dunn)

The proposed amendments to the Northern Ireland licensing law dealing with multi-activity purpose-built district council leisure centres follow the recommendations of a 1975 joint working party report on the provision of recreational and community facilities by district councils.

That report was endorsed by the Northern Ireland Association of Local Authorities, and, as some of these leisure centres are now operative, I consider it appropriate to give effect to the recommendation by including appropriate provision for this in the proposals for a draft order.

The review body, to which the right hon. Member referred, will, of course, be free to consider and make recommendations on all aspects of the licensing law, inclusive, if it so wishes, of the position of leisure centres.

Mr. Craig

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable anxiety amongst the community that drinking facilities should be provided in leisure centres extensively used by very young people? They feel that greater opportunity should have been given to allow representations to be considered by the review body. The decision taken by the Department has created the impression that the matter is over and done with. Will he reconsider inviting representations from the community in this respect?

Mr. Dunn

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the normal licensing law will apply to all persons, and those under age according to the present legislation will not be admitted to the licensed portion of the premises. I give that categoric assurance. Every effort will be made to ensure that the new centres operate under that scheme.

Mr. Powell

Will the Government ensure that these powers can be used only upon the affirmative request of the democratically elected local government bodies in the respective areas and that the most stringent requirements are placed upon the licensing of such premises?

Mr. Dunn

I can give the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that the most stringent conditions will be attached to any application that is made, and those applications can come through only by and on behalf of the district councils in which the leisure centre is situated.

Mr. McCusker

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with his hon. Friend who is responsible for the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland that excessive drinking has contributed to the terrible accident statistics that we have, and also to some of the worst excesses of the present terrorist violence? Therefore, there is no necessity to provide these facilities in leisure centres.

Mr. Dunn

I agree that there is anxiety and there is need for anxiety about alcoholism. I do not agree, however, with the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question. Indeed, if we were to agree, there would be no alcohol licence right throughout the United Kingdom.