§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)
I beg to move,That the draft Licensing and Clubs (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 25th July, be approved.The order is short, containing only nine articles. In 1987, the Government made significant changes to the licensing law in Northern Ireland. These were contained in the Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. The present order is intended to complement those earlier reforms. Articles 1 and 2 are introductory. Article 3 deals with the products that can be sold on licensed premises. The present law restricts public houses and off-licences to the business authorised by the licence, which by and large is the sale of alcohol. However, it makes exceptions for certain other goods, such as selling cigarettes, crisps, and the like, which go naturally with the sale of alcohol.
As the law stands, even the most modest change could be achieved only by primary legislation. It seems unnecessary to have an order every time a new bottle opener comes on the market. In future, therefore, we are proposing that any change should be through regulation.
Article 4 provides for the granting of extension licences and special authorisations when new year's eve falls on a Sunday. This is on average once every seven years, and it so happens that next new year's eve will be one of those occasions. As the law stands, alcohol cannot be sold in licensed premises or registered clubs after 10 pm on Sunday. I have been persuaded by arguments from the licensed trade, registered clubs and golfers at the 19th hole that, should I not act, there will be hardly a new year's party to which I will be invited in December. The provision will enable hotels, restaurants and pubs on application to a court and registered clubs on application to the police, to sell drink after 10 pm on 31 December until I am on Monday 1 January. I was addressing my remarks to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) in particular.
Article 5 introduces a ban on all the off-sales of alcohol after 9 pm. This is the most significant change in the order, so I shall explain how it has come about.
Before 1 October 1987, the standard hours for alcohol off-sales from pubs and off-licences were 11.30 am to 11.00 pm., but not off-sales from pubs or the off-sales outlets attached to them.
The measure was aimed primarily at lager louts. I had received many complaints about thuggish behaviour in Northern Ireland. It was clear that the main source of drink involved was off-licensed shops. Since then there has been a decline in the problem, but there remains a widespread clamour for stronger action to be taken against drinking in public.
It was also clear that, following the 1987 ban, some of the off-sales shops were struggling because, as I have said, the 1987 ban did not extend to pubs or their attached off-sales outlets. Northern Ireland Members and others pointed out to me the detrimental effect that the new hours were having on existing free-standing off-licences.
The Government, therefore, must try to square the circle. The choice is plain: either we return to 11 pm closing for all off-licence outlets, or we require all of them to close at 9 pm. To take the former course would be to sweep aside 284 the complaints of those who are rightly concerned about the serious problems associated with late-night drinking. That would be both unreasonable and unacceptable. The sensible answer, and the one that we have chosen, is to impose a ban on all off-sales after 9 pm, including those from pubs and off-sales outlets attached to them. That is the effect of article 5.
I now refer to article 6. I am sure that all hon. Members share my concern about the increasing problem of underage drinking. I know that all sections of the licensed trade are equally concerned, and they do not want to have under-18s among their customers. In passing I would like to praise what are known as no-alcohol pubs. I am pleased to say that in Armagh, Ballymena and, more recently, Dungannon there have been successful ventures to entice youngsters towards alcohol-free drinking. But we must keep a tight grip on the licensing side, and especially on offences involving minors. This article will create a new ground of defence for a person charged with selling alcohol to a minor, requiring him to prove that he had used all due diligence to prevent the offence. This defence will also be available to a person charged with allowing a minor in the bar area of a pub or in an off-licence.
This change stems from a recommendation made by Baroness Masham's group in its report on young people and alcohol, that the onus for avoiding the sale of alcohol to minors should be placed firmly on the licensee. I am sure that that is the right approach, but it is important to strike a balance. On the one hand, licensees must be left in no doubt about their responsibilities, and, on the other hand, it is important to have a defence for the conscientious licensee who makes a genuine mistake or could not foresee the intentions of his customer. I believe that the new defences strike that balance. They are, of course, identical to comparable defences now applying to the rest of the United Kingdom.
Hon. Members may like to know that the Federation of the Retail Licensed Trade, Northern Ireland has introduced a voluntary over-18 identity card scheme, similar to those operating in England and, I am glad to say, in my constituency. That is very much the sort of action which article 6 is designed to encourage, and many hon. Members are supporting it.
The remaining articles are mainly technical. Article 7 inserts a new arm into the definition of "intoxicating liquor" in the Licensing Act (Northern Ireland) 1971. Article 8 makes minor amendments to the Act. Article 9 contains repeal provisions.
I believe that what we are suggesting in this order is sensible, and that is borne out by the wide measure of support that it has received in Northern Ireland during consultation. I commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
I now understand why the order is being rushed through—so that the Under-Secretary's social life will not be interfered with too greatly over Christmas. In the context of his remarks about the 19th hole, I can also understand what the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) meant about a one-club policy.
The Minister has covered most of the ground, which is not a matter of controversy between the parties. The proposals in the order—particularly those dealing with under-age drinking, the new defence for licensees who 285 properly show that they are pursuing their duties, and the various other measures—are to be welcomed. I commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)
When the Government introduced the draft Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, to which the Minister has just referred, which banned sales from off-licence shops after 9 pm, complaints were made that the order discriminated in favour of public houses, which could continue to sell alcohol for consumption outside until 11 pm. Not only did the order financially hurt off-licences but it meant that customers could still buy quantities of drink for consumption off the premises from public houses. The 1987 order thus defeated the purpose of closing off-licences at 9 pm, which was to restrict the amount of alcohol available to persons, especially young persons, who drank, often in public, where they behaved disgracefully and offensively to people living in or walking about the area.
So I welcome article 5, which introduces a ban on the sale of alcohol from all off-sales outlets after 9 pm, as well as forbidding the sale of alcohol for consumption off the premises on Sundays and Christmas day.
However, I question whether article 5(1)(a) will be readily effective with its present wording, which, if I may precis it, states that the licensee shall not sell intoxicating liquor to any person for consumption off the premises on weekdays after 9 pm. I want to emphasise that the wording of article 5 does not prevent the customer from buying alcohol after 9 pm and keeping it until the premises close, thus defeating the original purpose of a time limit on off-sales of alcohol.
Once the public house shuts at 11 pm—or later; sad to say, there are too man late night extensions—the customer can continue drinking outside in the street or in other public places, where his conduct can be extremely offensive to peace-loving and law-abiding citizens. Unfortunately, the situation is made much worse by the fact that the persons with the parcels of drink who are let loose on to the streets from the public houses will already have spent part or all of the evening drinking in a public house until closing time. They will be in a bad condition, therefore, and will behave much more badly.
Another aspect must not be overlooked, and I hope that the Minister will not overlook it. Anyone in a public house with parcels of alcohol after 9 pm can say that he bought the drink before 9 pm, thus providing the licensee with a defence to a summons under article 5—even though the items were sold after 9 pm. That will happen on occasions.
The police are already overstretched in Northern Ireland—they certainly are in my constituency. We need more police officers about the area. They cannot stand guard in every licensed premises in Northern Ireland to ensure that drink is not sold after 9 in the evening for consumption off the premises.
Article 6 deals with offences involving minors—the sale of alcohol to people under the age of 18. Under the existing law, whereby the prosecution has to establish that the licensee has "knowingly" sold alcohol to a minor, the police have been frustrated in their attempts to stop under-age drinking in public houses. The order shifts the 286 burden of proof by removing the word "knowingly", but it provides a defence for the licensee if he can prove that he exercised all due diligence, or that he had no reason to suspect that the customer was under 18 years of age.
I hope that the Minister will take my next point on board, and have the matter looked into. Under article 6, the licensee can easily avoid the penalty that should fall on someone selling alcohol to persons aged under 18. I know that the article is in line with the changes made in the Licensing Act 1988 for England and Wales, following the recommendations of the working group to which the Minister referred, on young people and alcohol, which was chaired by Baroness Masham. It is interesting to note that the working party considered whether the sale or supply of alcohol to or for an under-age customer should be an absolute offence. It said that itwould undoubtedly be an effective way of strengthening licensees' resolve to establish the age of doubtful young customers … Indeed, some of us considered it the only really effective way.On balance, it was decided against recommending that it should be an absolute offence.
We must recognise that there is a considerable amount of under-age drinking throughout not only Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, but elsewhere in the world. The recent survey conducted by the Department of Health and Social Services in Northern Ireland confirmed that there is a serious problem in the Province, and that two thirds of all 16 and 17-year-olds in the survey drink alcohol. Of these, 80 per cent. claim to drink in discos or clubs—some of the discos are held in public houses—51 per cent. in pubs and bars, with 52 per cent. buying alcohol from off-licences, which were also the major source of supply for drinkers under 16. The survey also revealed that, among 15-year-olds, 19 per cent. of boys and 11 per cent of girls drink at least once a week.
That confirms that there is a serious under-age drinking problem in Northern Ireland, and it must be dealt with. I hope that the Minister will come forward with other proposals. They may not be in line with the law in England and Wales, but they should make it easier for the police to stop under-age drinking in Northern Ireland, in public houses and on the streets.
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)
We shall soon be entering a new parliamentary Session and, once again, hon. Members who have the honour to represent the Province of Northern Ireland will be expected to suffer the humiliation of participating in a charade, a pointless exercise in which Ministers pontificate on matters affecting our welfare—Ministers who are not answerable to the Northern Ireland electorate for what they do or do not do, to justify their existence. We are expected to join this annual merry-go-round with iniquitous Orders in Council and to deliberate on their contents with no oportunity to amend them. We are asked at the proposal stage for our views, but in my experience that is just a cosmetic exercise—an attempt to introduce a modicum of democracy into the process. It is the faceless civil servants who are calling the tune in Northern Ireland and the Minister, whatever his views, is powerless to alter one iota of an order of this kind.
If my right hon. and hon. Friends were allowed to contribute in a meaningful way to these impositions, or orders, we could honestly and sincerely advance the views 287 which are representative of our electorate. We could reflect the situation in the Province. But we are not allowed to do that. That is why such orders are anathema to the people of Northern Ireland. Ministers are not considered representative of the people. That is why the present system of government will never be accepted. It will always be a bone of contention, thus precluding meaningful relations between the Government and Unionist Members.
If I were to be treated democratically, like all those hon. Members who represent mainland constituencies, I should welcome the order as an attempt to cover something which was not dealt with in previous legislation. It is unfortunate, however, that it has not gone far enough in certain directions. The Minister is aware of my feelings on free-standing off-licences, for example. I believe that they should be subject to planning permission and not treated merely as trading shops. Such off-licences are springing up throughout my constituency and causing great offence to the community. They invariably become meeting places for lager louts, who practise what is described in the order as "anti-social behaviour".
I welcome the provision which will restrict the sales of intoxicating liquor at off-licences to no later than 9 pm, but that will not affect the consumption of liquor in public places by young people, who drink at street corners and get up to all kinds of mischief as a consequence. The Government should take a strong line on drinking in public places. They should legislate to place a complete ban on such an anti-social activity. It is unfair to expect local councillors to take responsibility, as their powers are often limited.
When dealing with under-age drinking, it is virtually impossible to place the onus of proof on the holder of the licence. Much of the drink consumed by minors is purchased by adults. I have witnessed this in north Belfast. Unless measures are taken to prohibit the consumption of liquor in public places, the new measures will not work.
The rest of the order is not contentious and will not present any problems, but it falls down in its approach to under-age drinking. That defect must be overcome if it is to give full effect to the intentions which lie behind it.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
I acknowledge the experience that the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) must have with lawbreakers. As a justice of the peace, he sees in court the results of some of the happenings on the streets of Belfast that he has so vividly described. I do not think he can expect us to believe, however, that the order is being dragooned through the House by faceless civil servants. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister has taken considerable soundings from everyone involved in the licensed trade, including the Federation of the Licensed Trade, Northern Ireland, which has had many discussions with the hon. Member for Belfast, North on the order.
This is probably not the week for advisers, but it is necessary for me to declare an interest as an adviser to the federation. The Government are introducing the order because of alcohol abuse among young people, and very necessary it is, too.
The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) has already referred to the survey carried out by the DHSS published in April this year entitled "Drinking amongst 288 school children in Northern Ireland". He said something about the results of that survey, which show that most young people obtain alcohol from off-licences, clubs and discos rather than from public houses. The survey says:Off-licences were the major source of supply of alcohol to adolescent drinkers between the ages of 12 and 16.The figures show that nearly half buy in an off-licence., a third in a club or disco, a quarter in a pub or bar and 5 per cent. elsewhere.
When the Minister replies, will he explain why it is necessary in this order to help the off-licence at the expense of the public house? I submit that the public house is an extremely responsible place in which to drink. The publican risks losing not just his licence but his livelihood and his home should he contravene the law on, for example, under-age drinking.
Reducing off-sales in public houses is unlikely to have any practical effect on reducing under-age drinking. Regulations to close off-licences at 9 pm were introduced in October 1987, but the fieldwork for the survey to which I have just referred was done well after that date and the results still show that adolescents obtain most of their alcohol from off-licences.
We do not want a rather sterile debate about hours this evening. There has already been much discussion about this, and the publicans' views have been made clear through their federation at meetings with the Minister and through the paper that it submitted on the draft order. They welcome the extra time allowed at the new year but they feel that the playing field is still a little uneven and tipped in favour of the off-licence.
I hasten to add that I am not the federation's spokesman, but it has come up with an idea that makes a lot of sense. The House will no doubt recall that, during a debate in this place on the reform of the licensing laws in England and Wales, there was considerable debate on what should be done about Sundays. As a result of what has been described in the Official Report as a cock-up in the other place, it so happened that publicans were granted additional time on Sundays.
A feature of the licensed trade today, and Northern Ireland is no different, is that more and more families are going to public houses at weekends. Public houses are offering more facilities than ever before. Many more meals are being served, but Sunday hours, from 12.30 pm to 2.30 pm and from 7 pm to 10 pm mean that one must gallop through lunch in considerable discomfort in order to finish in the time available.
I hope that the Minister will say whether, in order to achieve more balance in the trade, he will consider extending the hours on Sundays so that families can eat their meals and drink their drinks in just a little more comfort.
The hon. Member for North Down mentioned the Royal Ulster Constabulary and its views. What has the RUC had to say about the draft order? Enforcement of this cut-off deadline of 9 pm on off-licence sales will be extremely difficult. Anyone who happens to be seen leaving a public house after that time with drink bought in an off-licence only has to say that he bought it before 9 pm. I do not see how anyone could ever prove otherwise, how those who break the law are to be brought to court or how a prosecution can be made to stick, unless we are to have a system of spies.
Ideally, we should like uniformity throughout the United Kingdom. It took long enough to bring England 289 and Wales more into line with Scotland; perhaps we should now start a campaign to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest.
I should like the Minister to give an undertaking that the matter will be kept under careful review. The DHSS survey is interesting, because it has provided a datum point. Perhaps some mechanism can be found for an update of those findings: I should like to think that some of the questions that have been asked could be asked again at the end of the year to establish the position, and to find out whether there is any trend in adolescent drinking.
I am glad that the Minister acknowledged the over-18 card initiative by the federation, because it shows that responsible licensees are doing their bit to ensure that under-age drinking is kept under control.
The licensed trade in Northern Ireland is, in a sense, unique. Those of us who represent English constituencies, but often visit Northern Ireland, are struck—as it is impossible not to be—by what might best be described as "sectarian problems". Public houses in Northern Ireland have two main characteristics: first, most are free houses—the landlord-and-tenant system does not exist to the same extent as in England—and, secondly, they are non-sectarian drinking places. They are responsibly owned and run, and people across the sectarian divide can meet and enjoy themselves there. In that sense, the Northern Ireland licensed trade has a unique part to play in bringing the people together more happily than has been the case hitherto.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
Perhaps I may take a little of the House's time to support my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker). If the order were proceeding as legislation normally does, we might even congratulate the Minister on its content. Unfortunately, however, we have to point out time and again the unfairness of treating such measures as Orders in Council.
It is true that the order brings public houses into line with off-licences, in that both establishments must now stop trading in off-sales from 9 pm. I consider it fair that two establishments engaged in the same trade should have the same hours—that is an improvement on the previous arrangement—but there is no doubt that the sale of liquor to minors is a big problem in Northern Ireland, and a disgrace to those who run the off-licences.
I hope that the Minister will consider introducing legislation to prevent adults from buying alcohol in off-licences and then selling it to minors outside. The explanatory note in the order says that it is an offence knowingly to sell alcohol to minors. An even greater problem is that adults are buying alcohol in off-licences and then selling it to minors outside the premises. Unfortunately, no one seems to be greatly concerned about this. Many hon. Members have said that it is a disgrace that on some occasions minors can be found lying in the street not far from where they purchased alcohol. It seems to be in no one's power to prevent that. It may not be possible to prevent minors from drinking, but it ought to be possible for the police to find out precisely how minors were able to obtain alcohol. The matter may lie outside the scope of the order, but it ought to be examined.
290 I welcome the fact that a licensee must now prove that he or she made every effort to prevent the sale of alcohol to under-age drinkers, by notices or other methods. That provision ought to be strictly enforced. It is not the case, as the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) said, that on Sundays families spend a lot of time drinking in public houses. That is not the tradition in Northern Ireland. Public houses can open now in Northern Ireland on Sundays, but many of them do not do so because it is not the tradition there.
§ Mr. Colvin
It is not the tradition in England and Wales either, but times are changing. Because pubs are now offering a facility, people are starting to do something that traditionally they have not done in the past. That may happen in Northern Ireland, too.
§ Mr. Forsythe
That is a matter for the people concerned, not for the people who decide to open on Sundays. I assure the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside that that is not the tradition in Northern Ireland and I do not believe that it will ever entirely become the tradition.
I welcome the order, even though I should have preferred to welcome it in a different form. The House ought to change the procedure.
§ 11.3 pm
§ Mr. Needham
The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) said that he believes that the regulations do not do enough to prevent young people drinking, either outside licensed clubs or in them. The 1987 order that we are amending introduced new rules about the opening time of free-standing off-licences and limited it to 9 o'clock. The police believe that that has made a difference. Surely they are best to judge that. They believe that there has been a decline in the problems associated with late-night drinking since the off-sales hours were reduced for free-standing off-licences. In those circumstances, it would have been irresponsible of me not to take into account off-sales outlets attached to pubs.
The hon. Gentleman then asked how the police would enforce that. The police always have an enforcement problem in matters related to drinking. How do they enforce the drinking-up provisions in pubs? Sometimes they do it with difficulty. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that I have a different view of the honesty of his constituents. I do not believe for one minute that they will cheat and think that they can get away with cheating. I am referring not only to the drinkers but to the licensees. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlem) nodding her head in agreement. It would cost a licensee a great deal of money and possibly the loss of his livelihood if he were to breach this order and sell drink through his off-licence or over the bar after the permitted hours. I do not think that it is a question of putting in spies, as one or two prosecutions would serve as a timely reminder to anybody who tried to do that.
The hon. Member for North Down then questioned the Government's proposed wording on the sale of alcohol to young people. I can only repeat that that wording now applies throughout the United Kingdom. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is a distinguished lawyer. I am not a distinguished lawyer, but although I listened most carefully to what he said, I have to accept the advice of the Government's lawyers and Lady Masham's lawyers. I 291 hope that the wording will have the impact that the Government and Lady Masham hope for throughout the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I am sure that if the Minister has read Lady Masham's report, he will have noted that the working group was divided on the issue of an absolute offence. The group had the greatest difficulty in making a recommendation and only with reluctance did it decide not to recommend an absolute offence. As for the police, the Minister should talk to the police in Bangor, who have told me that there is a tremendous problem of under-age drinking and they cannot stop some licensees selling drink to under-age people.
§ Mr. Needham
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I spoke to the police in Bangor recently. I spoke to the new superintendent in the hon. Gentleman's constituency only a week ago and he told me that the police experience difficulties with outside drinking rather than problems in dealing with licensees who break the law.
The hon. Gentleman, whom I listened to most diligently, stressed the need to introduce byelaws on these matters. That is exactly what we have done. We have extended the byelaws because we have listened to what is said in Northern Ireland. I think that we should go down that route and see how it works. I am sure that we shall continue to make progress, as we have so far. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is grateful to the police and to all those responsible that the situation has improved.
Unfortunately, we are not debating constitutional matters, and I am fully aware of the views of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) about the Order in Council procedure. I am not sure what the views of his party are on a replacement for Orders in Council. As I understand it, it would like orders to be dealt with by a Northern Ireland Assembly, which would gain some support among hon. Members. The Order in Council procedure is the method by which we consider legislation, and as the Minister responsible I must do the best that I can to take everybody's views into account. As the hon. Member for Belfast, North knows, I listen to his views with the greatest possible care, and whenever I can I act on his advice.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
Will the Minister acknowledge that the Conservative party was returned to power in 1979 on a manifesto to legislate in the House in the absence of a devolved Parliament? For far too long, we have not had a devolved Parliament in Northern Ireland. If we are not to have a devolved Parliament, is it not time that we legislated in this House?
§ Mr. Needham
The Government's policy is that there should be a devolved Parliament, and I shall welcome the day when the hon. Gentleman comes round to that view. Until he does so, in agreement with the other parties in Northern Ireland and in the House, we must use the best method that we can.
I use the Order in Council procedure to try to consult hon. Members, and I notice that in this instance hon. Members welcome the order. I do not believe that during the consultation period—I have just consulted the faceless officials—there was any noise, chirrup or note from hon. Members against the proposals. They should either agree with the order or shut up about it. It is obvious that this is a reasonable and sensible order with which they agree.
292 It is not good enough for the hon. Member for Belfast, North to criticise my civil servants. I am perfectly capable of making up my own mind, but as the hon. Gentleman knows only too well, I have changed my mind about the order, which is why I brought it back before the House. One of the reasons why I changed my mind was that I listened to Official Unionist Members. As a result of listening to the hon. Member, we decided to amend the order, and I am grateful for the support that I am now being given. The hon. Gentleman must not criticise civil servants, who have done everything in their power to bring the order before the House as quickly as possible to ensure that minor errors are corrected and to provide for Sunday opening.
I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) that the order certainly does not help off-licences at the expense of public houses. It brings them into line, and all the evidence that I had showed that what was happening was affecting the free-standing off-licence and not the public house, which was not fair. A pub's off-licence business is ancillary to its usual business. I have done as much as I can to assist the competitive position of pubs in Northern Ireland, not least by allowing them to open on Sundays and to have gaming machines that offer small prizes. It is important to promote the pub in Northern Ireland, which I am doing, but competition must be fair and balanced. [Interruption.] I am grateful for the comments of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan).
We are talking not about under-age drinking resulting from off-licence sales but about reducing the amount of drink that is bought by young people after nine o'clock for taking outside. That does not mean that people buying drink are under age—often, they are not. The move to reduce the amount of drink bought by young people has begun and will continue when the order comes into force.
I listened carefully to what was said about Sunday opening and I have some sympathy with the views expressed about the present hours. I am sure that we will look at that. I have covered the subject of enforcement and I do not need to go over that again.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) raised the problem of minors—I assume he did not mean miners—and due diligence. It is an offence to sell to minors and the police are aware of that offence. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence of where it occurs, he should let the police know.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
One of the major problems is not selling alcohol to minors but supplying them. We need to get at the adults, such as winos, who purchase liquor and supply it to young people in exchange for a few cans or a small tip to enable them to buy food or drink. Does the Minister agree also that there are many irresponsible parents who allow their minors to have access to liquor in their own homes?
§ Mr. Needham
I agree with the hon. Gentleman but we are not discussing that now. The provision of alcohol to minors is an offence. I can remember it happening in the constituency of the hon. Member for Belfast, North. Where it has happened we have been diligent in taking the cases to the police so that they can be investigated. Some of the instances were dealt with strongly and I assure the hon. Gentleman that that will continue because I agree 293 that it is wrong. We should do everything we can to deal with the problems of under-age drinking and supplying alcohol to minors.
This is a sensible, minor change to the original order. I am sure that it will be welcomed throughout Northern Ireland for what it tries to do. It places a better balance on competition and I am sure that it will be another step towards sensible licensing arrangements which we will continue to keep under review. I assure hon. Members that we will continue to consult them about what we propose as long as they will talk to us.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Licensing and Clubs (Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 25th July, be approved.