HC Deb 21 July 1988 vol 137 cc1271-3
3. Mrs. Gillian Shephard

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he intends to bring the Licensing Act 1988 into effect and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

As I said in reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) on 14 July, it is intended that the commencement date for sections 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 10, 16, 17 and 18 of the Licensing Act 1988 will be 1 August and that the remaining sections will be in force on or before 1 September, with the exception of sections 12 and 15, which are likely to be implemented on 1 March 1989.

Mrs. Shephard

Does my hon. Friend agree that under-age drinking, with its attendant hooliganism and yobbish behaviour, is a matter of increasing concern to the people of this country? How will the Act contribute to tackling that problem?

Mr. Hogg

The Act tightens up the provisions of section 169 of the principal Act, in that the element "knowingly" is deleted and an offence is now committed when there is a supply to an under-age person of alcoholic drink, unless—I use loose language—the licensee or his agent took reasonable care.

Mr. Duffy

Is the Minister aware that in Sheffield last week a judge remarked that violence among drinkers leaving night clubs in the early hours had become virtually endemic? What assurance can he offer the people of Sheffield in the light of the impending legislation?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Member will be encouraged to know that the Licensing Act 1988 makes provision for revocation orders in more extended circumstances and gives justices a greater power to refuse special certificates.

Mr. Couchman

Is my hon. Friend aware that his answer will come as a disappointment to the licensed trade, which had hoped to benefit from the new hours during the summer season this year? If my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary are confronted by anti-social behaviour from the young, yob tendency during the summer, will they bear in mind that the vast majority of people who enjoy a social drink do so in a moderate, well-behaved and sensible way? Will the Government resist the temptation to blame everything on drink and look for the more complex antecedents of anti-social behaviour?

Mr. Hogg

I am sorry that licensees will be disappointed. I accept the broad thrust of my hon. Friend's case that the majority of people who drink do so sensibly.

Mr. Beggs

Does the Minister accept that there is great concern throughout the United Kingdom at the ease with which young people and less-responsible older people have access to drink through off-licences? Normal, sensible and reliable people are exposed to continuing nuisance at all times of the day and night because of open, blatant drinking in places such as sunshine bars and in remembrance parks where we pay tribute to those who served in world wars. Will the Minister consider that problem and endeavour to assist those local authorities that wish to see control exercised over the public nuisance that is created by those consuming alcohol?

Mr. Hogg

I could give the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) a number of answers. I remind him of the provisions of section 169 of the principal Act, which have been tightened up by the 1988 Act, and that there are provisions in the new Act for dealing with the supply of alcohol by under-age persons employed in off-licences. The hon. Gentleman will also know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is prepared in principle to approve a byelaw brought forward by Coventry city council, which addresses the kind of problem to which he referred.

Mr. Colvin

My hon. Friend will know that the measures contained in the Act—particularly more flexible hours—are welcomed by the licensed trade. It also welcomes the more stringent regulations that will permit action to be taken against under-age drinkers, but how are licensees to know when a drinker is under age? At present, a publican serving an under-age drinker risks losing not only his licence but his livelihood and his home. As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has recently been issued with an identity card by his local pub to prove that he is over the age of 18, why will the Home Office not support the move to a national identity card scheme?

Mr. Hogg

That is a very much wider question, to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will, I believe, be making a response later. We are much in favour of the voluntary schemes that are now in place. The new Act, and particularly the amendment of section 169, will make some licensees a little more cautious than they have been hitherto. I make the point that only a minority of licensees have been acting improperly.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

As under-age drinking seems to have reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the country, and as the situation will probably grow worse with the introduction of all-day drinking, when will the Minister take action on the Masham committee report, and when will he announce the Wakeham committee's recommendations on under-age drinking? Do not the events of this summer prove the folly of legislating to relax licensing laws before anything is done about drink-related problems?

Mr. Hogg

As usual, the hon. Lady is mistaken. She either exaggerates or gets her conclusions wrong. The Licensing Act 1988 incorporates many of the recommendations of Lady Masham's report, and the Wakeham committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, has announced its conclusions frequently.

Mrs. Taylor

What are the Government doing?

Mr. Hogg

I hear the hon. Lady chattering from the Front Bench. One of the things that we are doing is drawing to the attention of the police and the courts all the procedures and provisions that exist in statute, and they are extremely comprehensive.