HC Deb 09 June 2000 vol 351 cc539-80

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [12 May], That the Bill be now read a Third time.

Question again proposed.

9.34 am
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It was announced on the radio this morning that the inquiry chaired by Lord Burns, on which the Government have spent £1 million, will be delivered to the Home Secretary this morning. Despite the fact that the Home Secretary has not yet seen the inquiry, it was announced on the radio, last night and this morning, that he would make a statement to the House on Monday to announce the banning of fox hunting. Have you had notice of such a statement, Madam Speaker, and is it in order for the Home Secretary to make such an announcement on the radio before it has been announced to the House?

Madam Speaker

I was not aware of what was announced on the radio this morning—I had one or two other things to do. If the Home Secretary wants to make a statement, he will no doubt inform me at the usual time on Monday morning.

9.35 am
Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey)

As I was saying when I was cut me off in my prime on 12 May, I am delighted that Members on both sides of the House have given my Bill such a fair wind. Indeed, I must congratulate the many Members who have been abundantly generous at times with the amount of wind that they have given it.

The fact that the Bill has acted as a vehicle for a much wider debate on the shortcomings of licensing legislation has given it even greater value. I did not mean my introductory remarks to sound churlish in any way—the measure has been properly served. However, there were times when I was reminded of a comment made by one of your distant predecessors, Madam Speaker. When Queen Elizabeth I asked what had passed in the House recently, the Speaker replied: If it please your Majesty, six weeks. I suspect that we all know what he meant—I certainly know how he felt.

It is said that good wine improves with age. I am not sure whether a good Bill improves with verbiage, so I shall not take up much of the House's time in continuing my Third Reading comments. I had already completed most of my remarks, but I repeat my thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), and to Andrew Cunningham of the Home Office.

However, it has been intimated to me that one or two hon. Members, although they are largely sympathetic to my Bill, still feel that I should expand some of the broader arguments in its support, so I shall do so. I think it is perfectly proper that hon. Members should have mentioned that to me before today's debate.

I suspect that most hon. Members are already aware of the background, but I shall summarise it briefly. In March 1997, my 14-year-old constituent, David Knowles, was walking home from school with a group of friends. They decided to stop off at an off-licence in the centre of Pudsey. At the request of his friends, David agreed to purchase alcohol and did so on two occasions within five minutes. The friends then set off for home. On the way, having drunk three cans of lager, David, quite inexplicably—apart from the effects of the alcohol that he had consumed—decided to run across a busy part of the Leeds ring road, the Stanningly bypass. As he did so, he was knocked down, and he died from his injuries shortly afterwards.

The police were quick to attend the scene and to take statements from witnesses. As a result, they went to the off-licence in the centre of Pudsey—the Drinks Cabin, owned and run by Thresher, a national chain—and interviewed staff. They also seized security videos that showed that David had been served alcohol on two occasions within five minutes.

On the basis of the police report, the Crown Prosecution Service launched a prosecution against the two members of staff who had sold David the alcohol. The case went before the magistrates and was adjourned twice. On the third occasion, the CPS, having discovered the enormous loophole in the law that my Bill addresses, decided that it must withdraw the prosecution. Those hon. Members who are students of the Bill and who attended most of the debates on it will know that the loophole means that people who are not directly employed by the person whose name appears on the licence are immune under the law.

The people who sold alcohol to David were employed not by their manager—the person whose name appeared on the licence—but by a national company, Thresher. They were thus immune from prosecution under the Licensing Act 1964. That is clearly an anomaly; it is an enormous loophole. Not only does it exercise me and everyone who hears about it, but it obviously came as a tremendous shock to the parents, family and neighbours of David Knowles, who learned that the small amount of justice that they believed that they could pursue through the courts would be denied them.

John Knowles—David's father—came to my surgery in November 1997 to tell me about the loophole. Like so many people, when I first heard about it, I did not believe it. Had John Knowles not come armed with a three-page letter from the CPS, describing the loophole, I should have taken a great deal of convincing. Anyone who was asked the question, "Is it an offence to sell alcohol to someone aged under 18?" would immediately and unequivocally say, "Yes, of course it must be; we all know that to be true." However, it is not true, and my Bill closes that loophole. I hope that the circumstances of the case and the discussions that we have had over the past few months will convince everyone in the House of the need to pass my Bill to close that loophole.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

Apart from the central theme of the Bill, which is to close the loophole, will the hon. Gentleman touch on the issue of proxy purchasing that was raised by several Conservative Members on Second Reading? The Bill has been improved by the acceptance of an amendment. Will the hon. Gentleman put that amendment into context?

Mr. Truswell

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue, which I was shortly about to discuss. It is tempting not only to consider the immediate point that prompted one to examine the licensing laws, but to start to move out like the ripples caused by a stone thrown into a pond and to consider other issues. Clearly, one of the immediate issues was proxy purchasing.

It was tempting to consider several other issues. Indeed, on Second Reading and on Report, hon. Members succumbed to the temptation to consider many other matters. We had lengthy, informed and lucid debates on them. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will have taken much of that discussion on board. He and his colleagues in the Home Office will consider several of the points made when the Government eventually bring a much broader licensing Bill to the House.

To return to the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), let me say that it was clear on Second Reading that Members were keen to address the issue of proxy purchasing. Following that debate, I felt sufficiently emboldened to take to Committee an amendment to cover that point. I am pleased that the Committee and the House have raised no objections to my Bill, but I have always been aware of the strictures from both sides of the House and from right hon. and hon. Members that to try to do too much with a private Member's Bill is a recipe for disaster. I have always been cautious and tried to focus my Bill in a way that avoided a lack of consensus. I hope that I have succeeded in doing that.

Proxy purchasing is an important issue. It has emerged in my constituency at the very off-licence from which David Knowles purchased the alcohol on that fateful evening.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Proxy purchasing, as the hon. Gentleman calls it, and entrapment, as I call it, appears in the White Paper. It is a controversial matter and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on deciding to proceed with his Bill without it. I know that we shall return to the issue, but I wish to flag up one point. Protecting the rights of the young person used in the proxy purchasing or entrapment is the most important issue. [Interruption.]

Mr. Truswell

I hear the comments from my hon. Friends. I am sure that it was just a slip of the tongue when the right hon. Gentleman used the term "proxy purchasing". "Test purchasing" is the term used to describe the process that he described as "entrapment". However, he makes a valid point. I know from past experience that it is an extremely controversial issue, so I accordingly omitted reference to it from my Bill.

I do not want to spend much longer considering the issues. I know that other hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate. Some of them were not involved in our previous debates and they want to bring their knowledge and expertise to bear. If the House will forgive me, I shall bring my comments to a conclusion.

I believe that this is a good private Member's Bill. It has grown organically from the grass roots of my constituency, but it could have emanated from any constituency, It has been nurtured by excellent and well intentioned discussion in the House and, thankfully, has so far escaped any grafting or—dare I say it—genetic modification. As a largely ingenuous Back Bencher, it has been a privilege and an education for me to have been in charge of the Bill and to hear the many excellent and lucid contributions from hon. Members—I genuinely mean that.

My Bill, if passed, will serve a number of purposes. It will close the loophole highlighted by the David Knowles case; it will close the increasingly worrying loophole associated with proxy purchasing; it will equalise before the law all those who work in licensed premises irrespective of who employs them; and it will send a message to the people of this country that the House takes seriously the issue of young people abusing alcohol and the responsibilities of those who sell alcohol. To me, my constituents and, in particular, the family of David Knowles, it will serve as a memorial to him and the lessons to be learned from his tragic death. I therefore hope that the House will now give it a fair and speedy passage to another place.

9.46 am
Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

It is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell). He has skilfully piloted the Bill through all its previous stages and is now rightly receiving the credit and acclamation from both sides for getting it to Third Reading. It will shortly pass to the other place, where I am certain that there will be equal praise for the hon. Gentleman. I suspect that there will be no need to amend the Bill there, because it is now in pretty good shape.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his persistence. In the private Member's Bill system, we put our names into a ballot and, if we are unlucky enough, we are drawn in the top 20. We then have to search around for something to do. We are inundated from all sides with suggestions for Bills and some hon. Members are accused of merely taking a handout Bill and of doing the Government's work for them. I would not necessarily lay that charge against any hon. Member, but we know that it is certainly not true in this case. On this occasion, the hon. Gentleman can consider himself lucky to have come high in the ballot, because he has been able to proceed with an issue that is close to his heart and that he had attempted to tackle before.

It is appropriate that someone on the Conservative Benches pays tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his persistence and for raising the issue of the tragic death of David Knowles. His previous Bill would have added the word "agent" to the definition of "servant", but Home Office Ministers rightly pointed out that that would not totally solve the problem. The proposal would create other anomalies and would have come up against obstacles. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman rightly did not proceed with a faulty Bill.

There is a lesson in that. It is unfair to say that this Bill is a considerable improvement, but it is as good as we can get it until someone spots a new loophole next year or at a later date. We all like to say that we have a perfect Bill and that the legislation will last a century, but something new that we have not spotted always comes along. In previous debates, we referred to internet sales. If internet sales undermine a provision in the Bill, someone will come along with an amendment to try to improve it.

Mr. Forth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in this case, we know the future with much greater certainty than he suggested? The White Paper covers this and many other issues. It not only makes explicit reference to this Bill, but outlines an ambitious programme for the reform of the licensing laws generally. We know what will happen in the future.

Mr. Maclean

My right hon. Friend is correct. He is as assiduous as ever and, no doubt, has read "Time for reform: proposals for the modernisation of our licensing laws", which is interesting and tangential to matters that we may consider on Third Reading, especially offences and penalties.

I shall conclude my congratulations to the hon. Member for Pudsey by saying that his Bill is a model of how legislation should pass through the House. There was a tragic case in his constituency involving his 14-year-old constituent David Knowles. In March 1997, David went into a Thresher off-licence in Pudsey and purchased alcopops for friends. He returned to the off-licence within five minutes and purchased four cans of lager for himself. He was regarded as a serious boy but, when the group reached the Stanningly bypass on the Leeds inner ring road, he apparently called out, "Let's run," and ran on to the dual carriageway, where he was hit by a vehicle. He died shortly afterwards from the massive injuries that he sustained.

The tragedy was a double one because, as the hon. Gentleman told us, although there was video footage of the sales, the Crown Prosecution Service was forced to drop the case against the staff who served David because the 1964 Act allows only the licence holder or his employees to be prosecuted. Thresher's staff were employed by a national company, not by the individual licence holder, who was their manager. The hon. Gentleman was deeply concerned when David's parents told him about that loophole, and introduced his first licensing Bill, which attempted to incorporate the term "agent" into the 1964 Act. He realised that that was not sufficient or satisfactory, but he did not give up. Indeed, I believe that one of his colleagues tried to introduce a licensing Bill in the last session.

I was one of those who were concerned about that Bill because, for a private Member's Bill, it went too far by introducing the issue of test purchasing. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) intended to refer to that because, like me, he is concerned about the matter. Indeed, it was put to me when I was a Home Office Minister and I was anxious about it. I do not like the smell of it or the idea that the police or a local authority's trading standards officers could use a young person as an agent provocateur. I know that that is done for cigarettes, but that does not necessarily make it right for the authorities to send a young person into a shop to buy alcohol and then say, "Aha, we've got you."

As a Minister, my view was that I would accept that approach as soon as we had introduced a national identity card system, which would enable shopkeepers to ask the young people to show an ID card. Shopkeepers would be negligent if they failed to do that or sold alcohol knowingly to young people, and would fail the test in the Bill. I would happily accept test purchasing if I believed that we had a good ID card system.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for correcting my earlier error, and am grateful to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) for his indulgence when I made it.

I am not yet persuaded to go as far as my right hon. Friend on the issue. I do not want to get into that argument and merely wish to flag it up. My concern has always been for the protection and rights of the young person, and how far and whether there would be proper protection for young people in the process described by my right hon. Friend, even if there were ID cards. I will need to be satisfied on that if the Government are to take the matter forward, as they indicate they will do in their White Paper.

Mr. Maclean

My right hon. Friend is right. We are on Third Reading and discussing what is in the Bill, so we cannot get into the details of things that are not in it. However, it includes provisions on proxy purchasing. Test purchasing and proxy purchasing are not the same in principle, but my right hon. Friend rightly refers to the White Paper "Time for reform".

I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is in order for me to say that the hon. Member for Pudsey is right not to have included test purchasing, because that involves significant issues of principle. We should wait for the Home Office to consider legislation and for the Government then to introduce a Bill so that the issue can be explored in Government time and receive attention in a Standing Committee. If the White Paper is to mean anything, legislation will inevitably follow, so the issue can he addressed.

The Bill is quite large and the hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on sensibly undertaking consolidation of the law in it. Simply making amendments to the 1964 Act would further complicate that already complicated Act. The hon. Gentleman has rightly built amendments into his Bill by revising or rewriting provisions of the 1964 Act, making section 169 sensible and comprehensible to those studying it.

There are about eight or nine new offences in the Bill. It will be an offence for anyone in licensed premises to sell alcohol to a person under 18 if they suspect that they are under age. It will be an offence for anyone who has the authority to prevent the sale to allow someone to sell alcohol to a person under 18. It will be an offence for a person under 18 to attempt to buy alcohol in licensed premises.

It will be an offence for an adult to buy or attempt to buy alcohol for consumption by someone under 18: that is the proxy purchase that the hon. Gentleman has added to the Bill, thereby plugging another loophole. It is an offence for someone under 18 to consume alcohol in a bar and for anyone who has the authority to prevent such consumption to allow an under-18-year-old to consume alcohol in a bar. It is an offence for someone who works in licensed premises to deliver alcohol off premises to someone under 18, except when the under-18-year-old works in such premises in a capacity involving the delivery of alcohol. Finally, it is an offence for someone to send an under-18-year-old to obtain alcohol from licensed premises for consumption off the premises.

The Bill is therefore fairly comprehensive. Of course, not all the items that I have just listed are completely new concepts. Some are in the 1964 Act, and some appeared as amendments a few years ago. I shall touch on a few points worthy of special mention on which the Government may wish to reflect when, in future, they introduce legislation on the matter.

Who should be criminally responsible when alcohol is sold to someone under 18? The Bill makes that an offence for the person who buys the alcohol and the person selling it, whether that is the licensee, servant or agent. On Report, I asked whether a greater moral offence is not committed by the person buying the alcohol, and suggested that we should not put the bulk of the obligation on the licensee or the person undertaking the sale. The seller faces a heavy financial penalty and, ultimately, could lose the right to sell alcohol.

If young people are accompanied by their parents or guardians, they do not seem to suffer any penalties. That is not the fault of the Bill, but of the 1964 Act and the legislation that my colleagues and I introduced in government. We did not address the matter. If under-18-year-olds go to a supermarket or pub with their parents and buy or consume alcohol illegally, the person selling them the alcohol is liable, as is the young person, but there is no obligation on the parents. The sale of beer, porter or cider is an exception to that, but it holds true for young people who go into a pub and knock back vodka with their parents. The Government must address that when considering responses to the White Paper.

When considering all the offences in what will replace section 169, we should examine the circumstances in which someone can plead a defence. On Report, we had interesting discussions about defences in the Bill, especially in new section 169A(2). That subsection states: It is a defence for a person charged with an offence … where he is charged by reason of his own act, to prove that he had no reason to suspect that the person was under eighteen. We debated at length whether the word "knowingly" should be inserted. We were rightly convinced—it was the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) with her legal knowledge who convinced us—not to put back the word "knowingly". The Minister also argued against that, but we found the hon. Lady especially persuasive in her argument that since "knowingly" was deleted in 1996 or 1997, the number of prosecutions had risen. Nevertheless, it is valid to consider the circumstances in which a person should be able to plead a defence and, related to that, the degree of knowledge required for one person to be liable for the acts or omissions of others. Subsection (3) states: It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) of this section, where he is charged by reason of the act or default of some other person, to prove that he exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence under that subsection. What will the person have to prove by way of due diligence? I hope that the Minister will outline that—not at length, of course, but briefly. I know that it is dangerous for Ministers to comment on what might be a defence in hypothetical circumstances, but if one of the bar staff sells alcohol to someone under 18 and the owner of the bar is charged, what will he have to prove under subsection (3) in order to have a defence of due diligence?

I assume that the bar owner will have to show that he has given some training to his bar staff. He may have to show that he has a system to identify under-18-year-olds, and that he has told all his bar staff, "Ask for an ID card, passport or proof of age, or, if you think they look like children, sling 'em out." The owner will have to prove that he has taken steps to safeguard himself.

The best system of all would be an identity card system, in which the pub owner, licensee or whoever is working in the off-licence has a system to make sure that all staff go through a certain procedure if there is the slightest suspicion that anyone is under 18. I hope that that would be a satisfactory defence.

That leads to a crucial point relevant to several clauses. What identification measures will be put in place to underpin the Bill? The Portman Group's proof-of-age scheme has been in operation since 1990. What are the details of the new youth card being developed by the Department for Education and Employment? Is it intended to replace the Portman proof-of-age card? It would be helpful for the Minister to give some information about that before we come to the Third Reading vote, as it relates to the defences in section 169—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. The right hon. Gentleman must be careful not to stray too far beyond the tight limits of the Third Reading.

Mr. Maclean

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is why I said that the matter related to the defences in new section 169A(2) and (3), where it is a defence for a person selling alcohol to prove that he had no reason to suspect that the person was under eighteen. If the bar owner, licensee, servant, agent and so on can prove that, the Bill states that it is a defence. Similarly, in subsection (3), it is a defence to show that he used due diligence.

I hope that I will not be straying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I say that, in those circumstances, ID cards come into their own, and so may passports, as proof of age. We are dealing with a Bill that specifies an age—18. There are parts where the age of 16 is relevant. All the offences in section 169A are triggered by selling alcohol to people who are under 18. In those circumstances, the House is entitled to ask how licensees and pub owners are to avoid committing a crime. They do not want to be prosecuted, so how do they tell a 17-year-old from a 19-year-old?

As we always used to say, one is old when one thinks that policemen look young. It may be a sign of my increasing age that young people seem to look more sophisticated and older than I have ever known them in my time. They look older than they are, and that seems especially true of young women. I hope that that is not regarded as a sexist remark.

Mr. Forth

May I save my right hon. Friend before he gets too far involved in young women? Does he agree that he is dealing with one aspect of the Bill that could cause anxiety? Perhaps the Minister will help us later. In new sections 169A(2) and (3) and 169B, the phrases no reason to suspect that the person was under eighteen and to prove that he exercised all due diligence touch on precisely the point that my right hon. Friend is making. He was straying on to delicate territory, but it is increasingly difficult for an employee or someone else involved in the sale of alcohol effectively, properly, reasonably and diligently to tell exactly what age the person trying to buy alcohol is.

Mr. Maclean

My right hon. Friend is right, and I am grateful for his help before I made politically incorrect comments. The House would accept that young people these days look a little older and more sophisticated than we used to look when we were their age a few years ago. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend has always looked this age: he was issued, not born.

Pub owners, licensees, and others who sell alcohol say that proof of age is a major problem. That is why so many of them have gone down the route of the Portman scheme and other proof-of-age schemes, the details of which I have, but I shall not stray into them.

Mr. Heald

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Is it his view that it would be necessary for the landlord or the person selling to have asked to see a card in order to show that he had acted with due diligence? Would he be able to mount such a defence if he had not done so?

Mr. Maclean

I should like to hear the Minister's views on that. I hope that it will be possible for him to express them without that being used as a defence in some future case, which would allow a person to get off because the Minister had commented in the House that he did not think that in certain circumstances an offence would have been committed. I know that, in discussing legislation, it is difficult for Ministers to speak about hypothetical cases in the future and what would be the law.

I hope that the Minister will say that it would be highly unusual for the bar owner to be acquitted if he had not taken any steps whatever to try to check the person's age. Due diligence means that one must do something. The argument is about the extent of what one must do to check someone's age. If the bar owner merely says, "I looked at the person and, in my judgment and experience, he was over 18," I do not believe that that would be enough to satisfy a court, particularly if there are other means of verification, such as a proof-of-age scheme.

Mr. Forth

My right hon. Friend is letting the Minister off far too lightly. I hope my right hon. Friend will agree that, as legislation goes through the House and the other place, one of the objectives of the proceedings is to clarify as far as possible the intent of the legislation, in order to help the courts in future cases. If the promoter of the Bill or the Minister is too reticent at this stage, there is a danger that the courts will not have sufficient guidance from the legislature about what was in our minds and what our intent was. A balance must be struck, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will not let the Minister off too lightly.

Mr. Maclean

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I may have been too sympathetic to the Minister. I was in his position for some time, and I also received defensive notes, which said, "Minister, don't get into hypothetical scenarios." However, my right hon. Friend is right. Doubtless he was about to cite Pepper v. Hart, on which he could expatiate at length.

The Bill is rightly supported by the Home Office, and it is therefore legitimate for the Minister to express a view about some of the elements that might be required to prove a defence of due diligence. All hon. Members are entitled to give an opinion. I suggest that due diligence should constitute more than taking a 10-second look at someone and saying, "You're a bit short," "You're a bit tall," "You look a bit spotty or freckly; you must be a kid." That is not good enough. I shall now probably receive letters from the spotty disadvantaged, accusing me of various biases and abuses.

The pub owners, the licensees and those who sell alcohol are greatly worried about identification procedures—rightly so. Most do not want to sell alcohol to those who are under 18 or kids. They are also terrified of being prosecuted, incurring a level 3 fine and losing their licence. They therefore want to get it right. The Bill provides for two more opportunities for prosecution and losing their licences through proxy purchasing and allowing for many more staff to be caught in the net of improperly selling alcohol to under-18s.

If those who sell alcohol are to have a defence, the Government must suggest the steps they should take. We may not need legislation; the Minister's pronouncements, circulated through the licensing trade, may act as a catalyst for the Portman Group scheme or the Department for Education and Employment scheme or others. If the Government tell those who sell alcohol, "In order to satisfy the provision for due diligence, you'd better check everyone who might conceivably be under 18; you'd better back a voluntary identity card scheme or you'll be done in court," it would be a huge incentive for the schemes to take off.

I regret that the Government dropped the excellent proposal by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and me to introduce a national identity card scheme. However, if we are not to have such a scheme, we need to give more impetus to the voluntary proof-of-age scheme. I hope that the Minister will respond in as much detail as possible without stepping on the Lord Chancellor's toes.

The Bill makes selling alcohol to minors an offence only if the seller works on the premises, in a paid or unpaid capacity. I asked earlier whether the offence should be wider so that it covered anyone in a position of authority over the minor, such as parents. Should they be prosecuted for allowing a minor to consume alcohol in a licensed bar? The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), who preceded the Minister in the Home Office, alluded to that in his contribution to the Committee that considered the 1998 Licensing (Amendment) Bill.

It could be argued that placing sole responsibility on the person who makes the sale rather than the licensee might result in licensees becoming less vigilant or less anxious to ensure that staff are properly trained. We are delighted that the Bill plugs the loophole concerning the licensee's servant or agent. Anyone who works on the premises—managers or junior sales assistants; in supermarkets, off-licences or bars—is caught. However, is there a danger that the licensee, whose name is above the door, might become less vigilant and think, "Well, my staff will be done, not necessarily me."? It is a small point, but we need to know what measures will be put in place to ensure that licensees do not shirk their proper management responsibilities. The Minister may answer that they can also be prosecuted and can lose their licences. Perhaps his answer will lie in the new White Paper and the extra penalties that it includes.

What guidance will be given to the courts about the level of fines that will be imposed in specific circumstances? For example, it could be argued that, when a licensee commits an offence, he should be subject to a more severe financial penalty than an employee, because of his greater responsibility and ability to pay. I considered the point on Report. I am not sure whether an amendment was selected; if not, we shall not pursue the point. Proposed new section 169H states: A person guilty of an offence under section 169A, 169B, 169C, 169E, 169F or 169G of this Act shall be liable to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale. That is £1,000, if I remember correctly. Level 5 is £5,000; level 4 is £2,500; level 3 must, therefore, be £1,000.

I believe in flexibility in fines and penalties, and that the courts should be given maximum freedom. However, the Bill sends out a signal that all the offences in proposed new sections 169A, 169B, 169C, 169E, 169F and 169G are equally grave. I do not believe that that is necessarily the case. Perhaps the licensee should suffer a higher penalty than ordinary staff or workers. Perhaps Lord Sainsbury should suffer a greater penalty than the checkout girls and boys in Sainsburys on Victoria street if they sell alcohol improperly. We are considering a principle, although we cannot explore it in detail today.

Mr. Forth

Perhaps I am pre-empting one of my right hon. Friend's points, but the distinction is between not only the licensee and an employee or agent of the licensee, but also—for example, under proposed new section 169C—the person who attempts to make the purchase. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is an important difference between someone at one end of the offence—in this case, the person who attempts to make the illegal purchase—and the person who, inadvertently or not, allows him to do so?

Mr. Maclean

I agree with my right hon. Friend. If I imposed my moral scale of guilt on alcohol consumption by those aged under 18, the adult who deliberately procures alcohol for consumption by under-18s deserves the highest penalty and should be top of the list. The under-age person who buys alcohol should get the next highest penalty. Two levels of penalty should apply to the licensee: if he sells it deliberately, is negligent and could not care less, he should receive a high penalty; if he has taken steps, albeit inadequate, which do not satisfy the requirements of due diligence, he should receive a lesser penalty. At the bottom of the heap should be the sales checkout person in the shop or supermarket. Those people are least to blame.

Sales checkout people have so many other obligations in the rush of selling goods. That is apparent in any of the little supermarkets around Westminster—for example, Sainsburys in Victoria street, Tesco in Warwick way and so on. I shall not list all the shops that I occasionally visit to get a few bits and pieces to keep body and soul together in London. However, there is a frantic rush at the checkout.

Throughout our proceedings, we have talked about off-licences, which might not be busy on occasions. Sometimes there are only two or three people in there at a time, and perhaps the staff have the time to look at the customers, make sure that they are the right age and ask for proof of identity. Perhaps bar owners should be more on the ball because they face the problem all the time and know the penalties. No one has told our 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 supermarket checkout people their obligations in sufficient detail. They have a million things to do simultaneously: checking credit cards, asking about vouchers, cash-back and all the other claptrap associated with getting through a supermarket checkout. To expect them to deal with proof-of-age schemes and to make judgments on age is a heavy responsibility. However, to return to my remarks, which are directly relevant to proposed new section 169H, those youngsters on the checkout tills will be liable to the same penalties as the licensee, the person who buys the alcohol and adults who are involved in proxy purchasing on behalf of others deliberately and with malice aforethought.

Today is not the day to try to change those penalties—we considered them briefly on Report—and I do not suggest that they should be changed in the other place. If the House of Lords makes any adjustment to the Bill, I suspect that it may not be passed, given the dreadful bottleneck and the legislative shambles into which the Government have got the Houses of Parliament. We must let the Bill leave the House intact and I hope that it will pass the other place intact, otherwise it will not reach the statute book.

As the Government receive advice on the White Paper from all their consultees, I hope that they will consider the penalties, not just broadly—whether £1,000 is enough—but the categories of people to which they should apply. While I am discussing penalties, we need to consider another point. Proposed new section 169H(2) states: Where the holder of a justices' licence is convicted of any of the offences referred to in subjection (1) and the licence is held in respect of the licensed premises in relation to which the offence was committed, the court may order that he shall forfeit the licence if … he already has one or more convictions of an offence under section 169 … Local licensing justices will have the power to revoke a licence. Does the Minister envisage any role whatever for the licensing justices in future, given the proposals in the White Paper? I know that he cannot prejudge the outcome of the consultation and that the White Paper makes it clear that all licensing will be the responsibility of local authorities. I can also understand the tidiness in the Government's mind: local authorities will be totally responsible for licensing all premises—the building as well as the licensee—under the White Paper. The licensing justices will not be involved in licensing decisions.

As I understand the White Paper, if offences are committed, the police will have a new power to close down premises instantly for 24 hours, after which appeals can be made. However, it seems that those appeals will be to the local authority. Clearly, if the proposals in the White Paper go ahead, a lengthy new licensing Act would be necessary to deal with a range of matters and section 169H would need to be repealed. Even if the White Paper were implemented lock, stock and bairel—perhaps an appropriate term—does the Minister envisage that licensing justices will have any future role in convictions for offences? Magistrates may have to decide whether to convict.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman should not go further down that route or encourage the Minister to respond. We are not debating the White Paper; we must restrict discussion to the Bill.

Mr. Maclean

Precisely, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Naturally, I follow your guidance immediately. Therefore, I return to new section 169H(2) on justices taking away the licences of those who are convicted. As that section stands, it could fly in the face of other legislation that the Government may introduce following the White Paper. I hope that you agree that it is in order to ask the Minister whether he envisages that the powers under section 169H will remain, so that magistrates can convict people and recommend that a licence should be taken away, or whether they, in addition to local authorities, will still have the power to revoke licences?

Proxy purchase has been mentioned today. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Pudsey did not include test purchasing in the Bill. Legislation on proxy purchasing is legitimate and valid; it is sensible to include and widen such provision, as was done in Scotland four years ago. Lord Forsyth was responsible for plugging that loophole in Scotland—he was passionate about it in certain discussions in government, and I congratulate him—and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on doing the same in English legislation.

The Bill that will leave the House is in pretty good shape and will plug loopholes that concern hon. Members on both sides of the House—it is a textbook case of good private Members' legislation. I say that in no sense of sycophancy or facetiousness. I am one of those who block legislation in the House if I think that it has not been properly debated, but my record in objecting to Bills is as nothing compared to the Government's. No doubt at 2.30 we shall see them wickedly destroy the aspirations of 30 hon. Members from both sides of the House.

The Bill is a good example of legislating rather than reacting, as we all did with the dangerous dogs legislation. After the tragic case of David Knowles, it would be easy to say, as the House often does, "It must never happen again; give us legislation." Who would stop a Bill of merit that tried to do the right thing to prevent a tragedy from happening again? If we had not carefully considered the hon. Gentleman's first Bill, it might have been nodded through at 2.30, and we would have had to return to it a year later because it had not been debated properly.

The hon. Gentleman has had to wait two and a half or three years to get decent legislation on to the statute book. I hope that there have been no other tragic cases since that of David Knowles, but we can never guarantee that as parliamentarians. No matter what we do as we try to rush through legislation, there will inevitably be other victims because of someone's negligence, human folly or bad judgment. As one who did not support his previous Bill, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and wish this Bill well. I look forward to hearing the contributions of other hon. Members who have also played a vital role in ensuring that the Bill is good shape.

10.28 am
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North)

I shall be extremely brief because there are matters to be discussed later that, although they may not be more important, are more contentious. The Bill is excellent and has wide support in the House; there are no problems with it. We all congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) on steering it so far. I shall say a few words to send it on its way and to draw in other issues.

We all know that alcohol consumption among the young is a serious problem in Britain. The figures from Alcohol Concern show that such consumption is much higher in Britain than in other countries, in contrast to average consumption, which is rather lower. Consumption in Britain is increasing, although it is decreasing in other countries, and rising consumption among the young is causing the problem. European statistics and those from Alcohol Concern show that countries with strict controls on the licensing, sale and consumption of alcohol have lower levels of consumption, especially among the young, and that consumption tends to be higher in those countries that are more relaxed, such as Britain. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Bill, which will close an important loophole.

Other hon. Members have touched on some wider issues, and I address my next remarks to my hon. Friend the Minister. The Government are to present their national alcohol strategy, and I ask my hon. Friend to urge his colleagues in the Department of Health to do so as soon as possible to take account of the wider problems of alcohol consumption in Britain, and to ensure that the strategy dovetails nicely with the changes in licensing that my hon. Friend is discussing in his White Paper.

There is a serious health risk in alcohol consumption. It is frightening that in the past 15 years deaths from cirrhosis of the liver in Britain have risen threefold. We want to stop that trend. The Bill will go some way to reducing those figures in later years, as young people who are now drinking too much benefit from tighter control on the sale of alcohol and learn from a general atmosphere and culture of concern about and awareness of the dangers of alcohol consumption.

I add my support to the Bill, and I hope that it goes through within the next few minutes.

10.31 am
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

I warmly welcome the Bill and wish it godspeed. This is a textbook example of how a private Member should operate in the House of Commons. I have sat through the proceedings on numerous private Member's Bills, and many of them are handout Bills from the Government—there is nothing wrong with that in principle, but one should ask whether the Government should introduce their own Bills—or Members ask for too much. They tilt at windmills and raise issues of enormous national concern, which would be better dealt with in wider Government Bills.

This is just the sort of Bill that the private Member's Bill procedure was designed to deal with, and I strongly feel that we should give it a fair passage. I say that not just as a Member of Parliament but as a concerned and worried parent whose children are embarking on their teenage years. I am sure that the Bill will become law, and that it will make a difference. There is no doubt that, had it not been for the efforts of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) in pursuing this case on behalf of his constituent, the Bill would never have got this far. Therefore, I warmly congratulate him.

At present, unacceptable loopholes in our licensing laws enable people who sell alcohol to children—our own children—to hide behind a legal sleight of hand. With the passing of the Bill, the vendors of drinks will have at least a firm guide in law, even if they have no moral principles of their own, and will be forced to accept their social responsibilities. Parents cannot be everywhere. They rely on the people who run licensed premises. I cannot believe that all those people are irresponsible and want to sell drink to young people, but I can believe that some of them are irresponsible. If they are caught out not doing their job properly, the present law allows them to escape their responsibilities. That is why we must deal with this matter.

Unless the Bill is passed, we will be left with the present ancient, complex and inconsistent licensing laws. We have only to consider the small number of prosecutions and successful convictions to realise the problem. As at June 1998, there were no less than 111,600 licensed premises and 45,500 off-licence premises. In 1998, 310 persons were prosecuted for selling intoxicating liquor to persons under 18. Of those 310 prosecutions, only 157 in the entire country resulted in a successful conviction. That is 157 convictions from a total number of licences in force of 157,000. Those figures are from the "Liquor Licensing England and Wales" Home Office statistical bulletin.

I wonder whether I am alone in finding those figures unbelievable, when we all know that drinking among under-age people is so common and so much a part of youth culture, especially in the light of the frightening increases in youth crime, teenage pregnancy and other problems involved with drinking. The figures show that there is no doubt that relatively easy access to alcohol is a key contributor to the problems.

The legal sleight of hand that, as a father, I find unacceptable is demonstrated by the case that brought matters to a head. We all know the case, but for my constituents who may not be aware of it I should explain that a poor young 14-year-old—he was only 14, not 17—was out for the day with his friends having played soccer, and was able under the present law to go into a shop not once but twice, first to buy alcopops and then several pints of lager. That is incredible. He was far too young and could not control himself; he ran across the road and, tragically, was killed.

My constituents would find it unbelievable that that young man was sold alcohol twice. There is no doubt about that as there is clear videotape evidence. Presumably, there was no doubt about the fact that he was only 14 and under age. Unless the Bill is passed, people such as those who sold him alcohol cannot be prosecuted. My constituents, who will not have been aware of the existing law, will find that extraordinary. It must also be galling to the Crown Prosecution Service that it was unable to bring a successful prosecution.

The legal sleight of hand that enables such people to escape their responsibilities depends on section 169(1) of the Licensing Act 1964, which makes it an offence for a licensee or his servant to sell alcohol to a person under 18 in licensed premises. That presents a problem as to the exact definition of the term "servant." It fails to reflect the fact that staff in off-licences, which are the most important source of alcohol for youths, are often employed by a national company and not by the individual licence holder. The result is that an assistant in an off-licence cannot be considered a servant of the licence holder.

I say that for the benefit of the people who are not aware of the present law. Although common sense would suggest that employees of a chain of off-licences or pubs should be held responsible for their failure of social responsibility, unfortunately the law does not recognise that fact. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Pudsey has been thorough in drawing up a replacement for section 169(1). If the Bill is passed, the law will recognise what common sense already tells us.

My interpretation of the Bill is that it reflects much more the fact that off-licences are by far the greatest suppliers of alcohol to under-age drinkers. According to Home Office figures, in 1995 about 35 per cent. of people obtained their alcohol off licensed premises. Although that proportion dipped to about 20 per cent. in 1998, that is still the largest source.

What happened to David in this tragic case was extreme, but the effect of the lesser problems of vandalism, petty theft, under-age sex and intimidation of ordinary citizens by alcoholically emboldened youngsters will be reduced by the Bill. Therefore, it is a significant and good Bill.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend is an eminent lawyer. When he considers proposed new section 169A and the phrases to which our right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) referred—"no reason to suspect" and "exercise all due diligence"—is he confident that even this measure, which has the widespread support of the House, will go quite as far as he suggests in dealing with the problem? As a non-lawyer, I wonder how far it will be possible to mount effective prosecutions, given the wording of the Bill. I would like to hear my hon. Friend's view, knowing his experience of the law.

Mr. Leigh

I shall come back to that point. I do not want to be carried away by my strong feelings about the case that I have cited, or by my support for the Bill. I do not pretend that it will solve all the problems. Proposed new section 169A is central. Because of its drafting, we may not make as much progress in solving the problems as we would like.

Paper 3 in the crime reduction series produced by the police and crime reduction unit, which I have obtained from the Library, outlines the findings of various studies on youth crime and alcohol. A Manchester study found that youngsters who drank regularly were 25 per cent. more likely to have a criminal record than those who did not. In Scotland, 63 per cent. of young offenders in one institution were intoxicated at the time of their offences, as were 80 per cent. of offenders found guilty of breaches of the peace, and 88 per cent. of those found guilty of causing criminal damage. In 1996, the Audit Commission expressed concern about the fact that children not at school were more likely to consume alcohol than those at school. It estimated that 65 per cent. of school-age offenders were excluded from school.

All that demonstrates the severe problem posed to society by the fact that it is too easy for young people to obtain alcohol from off-licences. However, the easy supply of alcohol to youngsters is only one aspect of the problem. Others include the current state of youth culture, and where the money comes from to buy the drink. There is the question of parental responsibility, and the way in which parents introduce the topic of alcohol to young children. I know that we are not here to discuss such problems, but the Bill has wide ramifications, and unless we deal with them we will always come up against the legalisms rightly identified by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). People will evade their responsibilities.

Clause 1 reintroduces the fear factor, which is the only sure-fire way of making organisations that exist to make a profit—which is fair enough—look beyond their narrow self-interest and think of the communities of which they are a part. We all believe that our morality prevents us from committing a crime, but we must be pragmatic, and accept that it is fear that makes us less inclined to break or bend the law. The reason why speed limits are broken so often is the relatively slight chance of being caught, and the prospect of only a small fine if one is caught.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) mentioned the level of fines referred to in proposed new section 169H. I, too, wonder whether it provides a sufficient incentive for chains of off-licences and pubs to put the law before profit and increase pressure on their staff to be more proactive in stopping under-age drinking. Is £1,000 enough? I fear, given the accumulated revenue of the larger chains of pubs and off-licences, it may not prove to be the kind of deterrent that the hon. Member for Pudsey wants.

We should remember that before the Sunday trading laws were liberalised—I voted against that, which I know will not please my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, but I make no apology—the larger retailers were frequently fined to prevent them from breaking the law. Unfortunately, the penalty was insufficient to deter them, because the benefits of trade far outweighed the potential losses resulting from prosecution. About 60 per cent. of 11 to 15-year-olds drink. That must constitute considerable revenue potential for larger chains of licensees, although I do not have the figures to support my assumption.

Potential penalties may need to be harsher than those currently proposed in the Bill, because if the Bill is to reduce youngsters' access to alcohol, licensees must be proactive, and make the effort to question youths. As I have said, it is fear that will make them do so. Youths will not make the effort on our behalf. Children will appear older than they are because of their dress and attitudes. Is it seriously contended, given the level of trade and the hustle and bustle of the large supermarket or off-licence to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border referred, that a potential fine of only £1,000 will make a great difference?

Proposed new section 169A(2) states: It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) of this section, where he is charged by reason of his own act, to prove that he had no reason to suspect that the person was under eighteen. All I can say, from my own experience and reports, is that—although I do not want to pour cold water on the efforts of the hon. Member for Pudsey—I fear that it will be relatively easy for a defending solicitor to prove that his client had no reason to suspect that the person was under 18.

I do not know what the solution is, and I am not sure how the Bill could have been tightened up. Certainly, we would like it to insist that when there is any doubt about a young person's age—and, in the case of that 14-year-old, there must surely have been some doubt—the licensee or his staff should ask for some form of identification.

I realise that, given the current debate about identity cards, the hon. Gentleman could not put such a provision in the Bill, but he must recognise that it will be relatively easy for a defending solicitor to convince magistrates that he had no reason to suspect. Perhaps some sort of case law will develop. Perhaps lay magistrates, who are valuable in this regard, will create a case law or history in their localities, which will convince those running off-licences that magistrates take a tough view. The magistrates will need to be convinced that the licensee made real efforts to find out the young person's age.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst was right to ask his question. I wish that I could come up with a form of words that would dramatically improve the Bill, but I fear that I cannot.

Proposed new section 169G states: A person shall be guilty of an offence if he knowingly sends a person under eighteen for the purpose of obtaining intoxicating liquor sold or to be sold in licensed premises for consumption off the premises. That is designed to stop parents sending their children to buy drink, which is fine. It brings us to the whole business of proxy and test purchasing.

I do not agree with my right hon. Friend. I believe that, if we are to have any chance of convincing licensees that they will be caught, we must allow test purchases. We must create legislation; this is where the Government come in.

I appreciate that it may not have been possible for the hon. Member for Pudsey, for all sorts of good reasons—not least, presumably, the worry about the reception that he might receive here this morning—to include a clause allowing test purchases, but I have no difficulty with the idea. Where society faces such an appalling problem with under-age drinking, I have no problem with the police using young people to test out shops. Word will soon get around. That would make a dramatic difference to the attitude of the people who run those shops.

Therefore, I disagree with my right hon. Friend. I know that he is a great believer in civil liberties—and so am I, but I am not sure that that would be an enormous infringement of civil liberties. Someone should be allowed to go in to a shop to make a test purchase.

Mr. Maclean

Surely my hon. Friend accepts that if the police or trading standards officers pick someone who is 16 but looks 18 or 19, and send that person into a shop, the shopkeeper will rightly rely on his or her judgment that the person is over age and sell the alcohol. In the absence of a national ID card, there is no official means of proof, but the shopkeeper will be prosecuted and found guilty. That is using someone as an agent provocateur. It would be acceptable if the person looked their age, but there is a danger that people who are younger than they look will be used as the agents.

Mr. Leigh

I am not sure that it will be strictly a case of agents provocateurs. As I understand it, an agent provocateur is someone who is used by the authorities deliberately to encourage a potential committer of a crime to indulge in a form of behaviour that he would otherwise not have indulged in. That is why we are all against the concept of agents provocateurs. Test purchasing is different, but I accept what my right hon. Friend is saying. There may be injustices.

A 16-year-old who looks 18 may go into an off-licence. The licensee or member of his staff may sell that person alcohol and be prosecuted. I agree that that is an injustice in a sense, but does not my right hon. Friend see that we are not talking about sending people to prison? We are talking about a fine of £1,000. We are talking about large chains, and we are trying to create an attitude within the businesses that they must be careful and cannot be casual about this matter. They cannot come to the instant thought, "Little Johnny looks so high." They must go out of their way, be proactive and ask questions. If they do not, they might be hauled before the beak.

Unless there are test purchases, I do not think that that will happen. Although I understand where my right hon. Friends are coming from, I think that they are making a mistake. I hope that, although it was not possible to bring in test purchases through the Bill, we will bring them in through other legislation. The problem with the way in which proposed new section 169G is framed is that it will definitely stop the police from doing any sort of test purchases. That worries me. We must come back to that.

A couple of other points worry me about proposed new section 169A. One is how a vendor can prove that he had no reason to suspect that a person was under 18. I am worried. Can the Minister respond to the point? How can the vendor prove that? How can the prosecution prove that the vendor suspected that the person was under 18? There is a real problem with the provision. I do not think that we can shuffle over it in the way that perhaps I have tried to do, saying that I cannot think of anything better. It is important that the Minister, when he deals with proposed new section 169A, tells us how he thinks he—or rather, the courts—will obtain a prosecution.

In any event, taken as a whole, it is a worthy Bill and a credit to the resolve of the hon. Member for Pudsey. It is a fitting monument to a young boy who lost his life because of a lack of social responsibility and a loophole in our law. I warmly commend the Bill to the House.

10.55 am
Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

I am grateful for an opportunity to speak on Third Reading. It is a debate that I have followed closely. I am also grateful to have a chance to respond in part to one or two points that have been made by Conservative Members, including the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who said much that I agreed with. I cannot always say that in the House, but on this occasion I am glad to be able to do so.

I echo very briefly, but with great sincerity, the tributes that have been paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), who has found a way through the nightmare of private Member's Bill procedure better than some of us have managed on other subjects.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

My hon. Friend got her Fur Farming (Prohibition) Bill.

Maria Eagle

Not through private Member's Bill procedure.

The persistence and good sense of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey in realising that consensus is important on these occasions should pay dividends shortly, when the Bill goes to the other place, not to be seen here again, I hope. I commend him warmly for his efforts.

Alcohol consumption by young people is a serious problem throughout the country. The Library research paper gives a brief indication of the size of the problem. Department of Health statistics show that, in 1996, 27 per cent. of pupils aged 11 to 15—that is, well under age—had had an alcoholic drink in the past week and more than half of 15-year-olds had had one. I do not intend to regale the House with reams of statistics. That one statistic is enough to indicate to all hon. Members the seriousness of the problem.

I agree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough about the breadth of the social implications involved. It is not just a problem for the young people who partake of alcoholic drinks; the problem goes wider than that and affects whole swathes of society. Particular parts of my constituency of Liverpool, Garston have an on-going problem, much of which can be traced back to under-age drinking.

The problem affects not just the young people whose health is put at risk and whose futures are potentially blighted by drinking alcohol in quantity at too young an age, but entire estates, streets and particular parts of many hon. Members' constituencies. Groups of young people drinking out of doors leads to other problems of nuisance, crime and fear of crime in many estates. It has been an increasing problem in my constituency, not just in the area in which one might think that it would be a problem. The problem can develop in poor and better-off parts of the constituency, affecting not only those who partake, but a wider swathe of society.

In the three years since I started holding surgeries as a local Member of Parliament, it has been an increasing problem. From anecdotal evidence in Liverpool, my impression is that the problem is increasing, rather than decreasing. That reflects the fact that the law as it stands is not capable of dealing with it, partly because of the loopholes that have been identified by my hon. Friend—which the Bill will, I hope, take steps to close—but also because of the wider confusion in the law. I am glad that the Government have noticed that confusion and that their White Paper "Time for reform: proposals for the modernisation of our licensing laws" takes steps to address it. I hope that there will be further legislation as soon as possible, once the consultation has been completed and the Government are able to make recommendations.

I base my views on the issue not only on the evidence of my own surgeries, although that has been extensive, but on my conversations with other people who take an interest in and are concerned about it, such as Merseyside police, the Magistrates Clerks Association and other, local organisations.

I should like to quote briefly from some research that has been done in one part of my constituency—Speke, Garston—but emphasise that the research has been done there because of the operation of a local single regeneration budget partnership that is concerned with trying to regenerate the area, not because there is a particular problem in Speke. I cite that part of my constituency only because good information on the issue has been collected there, not because the situation is worse there than anywhere else.

Speke, Garston comprises about one third of my constituency, and 35 per cent. of the population are under 25. Of known offenders, 26 per cent. are under 18. Compared with the average across Liverpool, crime is higher in Speke. There is an average of 19.9 crimes per 100 residents, compared with 14.6—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am listening very carefully to the hon. Lady's speech, and I have no doubt that she will soon be relating her remarks to the Bill's contents, which are what we are debating.

Maria Eagle

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely trying to set in the context of my constituency the difficulties that the Bill seeks to deal with. I shall, however, move swiftly on to speak more specifically to the Bill.

A survey was conducted in Speke, Garston, and people described incidents of alcohol drinking among young people as ruinous to the Speke community. They said that alcohol was cheap, effective, locally available and much cheaper to obtain than other drugs. They also said that under-age drinking was widespread.

When I talked to police, they made it clear that, in their experience, the biggest supply problem is centred on off-licences. National statistics, too, make it clear that young people obtain their alcohol at off-licences. Therefore, the concern is very much centred on local off-licences. Similarly, the problems caused by groups of youths, and the proxy-purchase issue, centre very much on local off-licences.

Merseyside police, who deal with these issues, believe that the root cause of the problem is not necessarily irresponsible licensees. They believe, in fact, that many licensees do their very best to ensure that they do not sell to under-age people. They also believe that proxy purchase is a particular problem and that, because of the legislative loophole, licensees can do nothing to prevent it. Given the comments of police and my own constituency experience, I believe that proxy purchase is a key problem in that part of the constituency.

I therefore very much welcome the fact that, in Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey was bold enough to reinstate the proxy-purchase provisions that the legislation in the previous Session contained, but that were—understandably, as he was trying to build consensus on the Bill—removed. I very much welcome their return to the Bill, where they belong.

Test purchasing was pioneered in Liverpool, by Liverpool trading standards officers, whom I commend for their work on the issue. In 1988, Liverpool first started performing cigarette test purchases. Liverpool trading standards officers have also test purchased fireworks. They cannot, however, test purchase alcohol, as it is an offence to send an under-age person into an off-licence to make such a purchase. The law prevents them from conducting those tests.

I should add that, in 1988, when cigarette test purchasing was first adopted, every kid who was sent into a shop to buy cigarettes was able to buy them; 100 per cent. of shops sold under-age people cigarettes. Last year, with a much larger number of shops being tested, the figure had dropped to 5 per cent. Similarly, the percentage of shops selling fireworks to under-age people has dropped from 50 per cent, in 1986, to 5 per cent. today. Test purchasing works, and it should be allowed to work in helping to stop under-age drinking. I hope that the Government will take that fact into account.

I do not want to detain the House any longer, as I realise that hon. Members want to debate other matters on the Order Paper. I simply reiterate my support for the Bill, and tell my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey that he has done a good job. I wish his Bill well. I am sure that it will be sent to the other place, and hope that it will soon be enacted.

11.5 am

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

It was no less a person than Sir Winston Churchill, who, on 16 March 1931, in a Select Committee, said: I am not very anxious to help private Members' Bills. I have seen a great many of them brought forward, and in most cases it was a very good thing that they did not pass. I think there ought to be a very effective procedure for making it difficult for all sorts of happy thoughts to be carried on to the Statute Book. I could not agree more with Sir Winston Churchill. That statement sums up better than I could ever do the proper attitude to private Members' Bills, and one that I, in my modest way, try faithfully to follow. I am comforted that it was Sir Winston who set that inspirational route for me—and, I hope, for others—in demonstrating what a private Member's Bill should be.

I want immediately to join other hon. Members who have paid tribute to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) for having the perspicacity, self-discipline and self-restraint to carry forward the task he has set himself in the way that he has done, not only in limiting the scope of his Bill—I believe that private Members' Bills properly should be limited and focused—but in ensuring that it does not involve intrusions on civil rights or large expenditure of taxpayers' money. Those are the types of criteria that I personally apply to private Members' Bills, which should also be able to command the confidence of the House at every stage, to enable hon. Members to see the contribution that they will make. This Bill fits all those criteria admirably, which is why I sense that, very shortly, the House will give it a Third Reading. That would certainly be my wish.

I also pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman—it has been touched on, but I want to repeat it—for his persistence. Following the tragic incident involving his constituent, which we have heard about today—I extend my condolences to David Knowles's family—the hon. Gentleman was not put off, introduced his Bill again and again, and sensed what legislation would be passed by the House. He has now arrived at the position that he is in today, and it is an enormous tribute to his persistence and perspicacity. I hope that other hon. Members will consider it as a textbook operation for a private Member's Bill.

I should like to mention in passing—I do not think that the matter received a proper outing when I mentioned it before, so I shall have another go at it; I thought that it was rather funny, although not many people did at the time—the fact that, in the Bill's long title, I spotted the statement: Make provision in connection with the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor in cases … I was told by the hon. Member for Pudsey that he was satisfied that that wording would not in any way inhibit the Bill's effectiveness. I hope that that is so, and that the lawyers among us—not least my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), to say nothing of the Minister himself—will not want to get too picky about that wording. However, it struck me as slightly infelicitous, and I hope will not hinder the Bill's effectiveness.

This debate is our last chance to be satisfied about the Bill. My right. hon. and hon. Friends and Labour Members, in paying tribute to the Bill, have also highlighted some potential difficulties. Very shortly, the Minister—with his expertise and the advice that he has had, and from the position that he is in—will have the opportunity finally to satisfy the House that the Bill will do what we want it to do. I should like, therefore, to take a very short time to flag up one or two of the matters in the Bill about which concern has been expressed at various stages in its passage. The first was raised in a remarkable contribution by the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) on 12 May. He said that it is clear that the clause, with its use of the phrase "in licensed premises" is not sufficient to deal with all situations in which alcoholic beverages can be sold from licensed premises to minors. Therefore, the amendment, by inserting the words "or from" into the clause, would reinforce the interdiction against the sale of alcohol from the curtilage of a licensed premise. The hon. Gentleman's tour de force contribution summed up the difficulty felt by a lot of hon. Members concerning the use of the words "in licensed premises".

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire said on the same day: There is obviously quite a bit of concern in the House on the question of internet sales and the use of credit cards. Again, that matter arose repeatedly on Report in the context of Members' anxiety that there was the possibility that the Bill was being restricted by its use of the words "in licensed premises".

In fairness, the Minister—as courteous and diligent as ever—has told the House: The law permits sales on credit by off-licences. Sales on credit are prohibited only when alcohol is sold for immediate consumption on licensed premises. Credit cards cannot lawfully be held by anyone under 18 years old. That is crucial to the Bill. He then said that debit cards can be obtained by minors, adding: As we have said in the licensing White Paper, there is no evidence that youngsters are using purchase by mail order, telephone or internet to obtain alcohol—at the moment.—[Official Report, 12 May 2000; Vol. 349. c. 1121–70.] My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire had asked the Minister about possible research on the subject and the Minister had revealed that a research budget had been allocated. It is relevant for us to press this matter.

I will accept from the Minister, with a little reluctance, that because he believes that there is no evidence of a significant use or abuse of purchasing through the internet or credit and debit cards by minors, that is not something that need concern us at this stage and that the use of the words "in licensed premises" need not prove to be a weakness in the Bill, as we would fear.

I accept that for the time being, but I would like the Minister to say one more time that he believes that it will not weaken the effectiveness of the Bill, and that he and the Home Office will look carefully at the matter in the White Paper and in the research budgets to satisfy themselves that, if a problem arises, it will be dealt with promptly in the legislation that the Government will propose following the White Paper.

We have touched this morning on the key phrases in the Bill. For example, proposed new section 169A says: It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) of this section, where he is charged by reason of his own act, to prove that he had no reason to suspect that the person was under eighteen. Proposed new section 169A(3) states that it is a defence for a person charged to prove that he exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), with his legal expertise, reinforced my doubts on this part of the Bill. As always, we are in difficult territory here, as we must strike a balance between civil rights and a proper, reasonable defence being allowed to people whose innocence must always be assumed until proven otherwise; I hope that that will always remain the case, European depredations notwithstanding. Here I wonder whether the balance is right.

The Minister should have something to say, given the two hats that he wears—first, as a legal expert in his own right, and secondly, as a Home Office Minister. We must be satisfied that he believes that prosecutions can be mounted effectively within the terms of the Bill, and that the balance has been correctly struck between the proper rights of individuals in our legal and judicial systems on the one hand and our desire to make the law effective in this area on the other.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), as always, is in her place for these debates and is following the matter with the interest that she has shown from the start. She has done the House a great service today in bringing her legal expertise to bear. We have been fortunate in having a plethora of legal experts at all stages of the Bill, which has been particularly apposite. I cannot say that I am always enthralled to be surrounded by lawyers but, on this occasion, it has been helpful. On 12 May, the hon. Lady said: To include "knowingly" in the selling offence restores the position that applied before 1988. The Licensing Act 1988 removes "knowingly" from the selling offence. The House should consider whether the legislation was successful in its aim to make it easier to prosecute. Including "knowingly" requires express knowledge by the licensee. It is quite a hard test to meet. —[Official Report. 12 May 2000; Vol. 349, c. 1150.] She said later that she believed that there had been a problem historically of a fall in the number of prosecutions mounted, as a result of the changes made in the law in the past. This focuses attention on the word "knowingly" and its context in the Bill, and whether that will have the effect of making prosecutions more easy to mount arid to succeed, or less. Again, I look to the Minister to confirm that he is satisfied that the word "knowingly" in this context will not be an impediment to the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire—acute and on the ball as ever—said on 12 May: Might the answer to that question be found in a contractual interpretation of the relationship, if there is one, between the person selling and the person permitting the sale of intoxicating liquor to a person under 18? Would it not be wrong to say that the latter is guilty of an offence, just because there is an employer-employee contractual relationship? Surely, the mischief only occurs if it is done "knowingly"?—[Official Report, 12 May 2000; Vol. 349, c. 1157.] My hon. Friend was being helpful, and later the Minister referred to that with approval and suggested that that might be the answer to the conundrum of "knowingly".

We need the maximum reassurance that possible areas of difficulty are not as problematic as some of us felt, and that matters can be readily resolved. Exactly the same applies to proposed new section 169C(3), which states: A person shall be guilty of an offence if he buys or attempts to buy intoxicating liquor for consumption in a bar in licensed premises by a person under eighteen. I was worried at the time that the use of the term "in a bar" was unduly restrictive. The Minister—being helpful again—said that a bar is an area designated by the licensing justices in granting the licence. It is therefore specified in the licence. I accept that explanation, of course. That makes it important that those who grant the licences and make the specifications in them are careful to ensure that they cover all the possible definitions of "in a bar", to ensure that all the premises are adequately covered. We live in a world in which the development of the licensed trade has been rapid and exciting, with theme bars and licensed premises with gardens and roof terraces. What about the cases in which people take their drinks outside on to the pavement outside the licensed premises and enjoy their pint of beer on a warm summer's day in a convivial group? Is that a problem? The Minister has been helpful and explained that the term "in a bar" need not be as restrictive as I had feared and that it was a matter for specification by the licensing authorities. Is he satisfied that the answer he gave then covers that eventuality?

Mr. Maclean

My right hon. Friend may find that that eventuality is covered by an Act introduced in the previous Parliament by our colleague, Dr. Robert Spink, who received incredible help from a thoughtful Home Office Minister of State. After suitable parliamentary debate, that measure reached the statute book, and it deals with most of those problems.

Mr. Forth

Our admiration for that helpful Minister is unstinting and we remember him with great fondness. We have explanations for most of the problems that were identified, although I have raised some additional questions for the Minister. However, we should not be under the illusion that the Bill means that nobody under 18 can enjoy an alcoholic beverage, because proposed new section 169D provides exceptions for persons under 18 but over the age of 16. The promoter of the Bill explained the position in an earlier speech, but—intriguingly—exceptions apply to beer, porter and cider, and also to the purchase for consumption at a meal in a part of the licensed premises which is not a bar and is usually set apart for the service of meals. The Bill allows a degree of flexibility, which I do not criticise, but we should be aware of it.

I have some doubts whether we are likely to have effective prosecutions under proposed new section 169F. It is probable that prosecutions will he possible in the case of a direct relationship between the person doing the purchasing, the receipt of the goods and the person doing the selling. However, will that happen in the case of a person who knowingly delivers to a person under eighteen? What about the case of a person who knowingly allows any person to deliver to a person under eighteen? That is very indirect. We are now talking about the second and third person. A later clause applies the provision to a person who has authority to prevent the delivery. I flag that issue up, because I have considerable doubts about whether it is likely that it will be easy for a successful prosecution to be mounted under that provision. The intention is obviously to spread the net as wide as possible, but my lingering doubt is that prosecutions will be difficult because they would involve activities at second or third remove.

I apologise for getting the issue of test purchasing wrong earlier in the day, but I am still unhappy about one aspect of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) expressed their support for it, but I fear for the welfare and wellbeing of the young person used in the exercise. Before I acquiesce in the use of test purchasing, which is strongly hinted at in the White Paper, I wish to be satisfied that adequate protections will be provided to young people used to make test purchases, be that parental consent or other involvement of an adult or guardian. My fear is that the police or authorities will, with good intentions, persuade a young person to perform an act that could have an adverse effect on that young person. I accept the comment by the hon. Member for Garston that test purchasing has been performed for a long time and is very successful, but I would like to know more about the effects on the young people involved.

My right hon. and hon. Friends have mentioned proposed new section 169H, but I wish to add that the Bill mentions various participants in the acts in question—such as the person making the purchase, the licensee, the agents or employees, paid or unpaid—with various ramifications and, therefore, we should have more than one level of fine. I congratulate the hon. Member for Pudsey on doing a great service to his constituents and more widely in sponsoring this Bill. I wish it well and it will have my support on Third Reading.

11.25 am
Ms Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley)

Not surprisingly, I have a strong feeling of déjà vu in speaking in this debate. To be able to sponsor a private Member's Bill is a privilege and I was grateful for the opportunity to present a similar Bill last year. I regarded the measures it contained as urgent and necessary. My Bill followed a ten-minute Bill tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), and I pay tribute to his consistent efforts in raising awareness of licensing issues in relation to children and young persons, which are now being addressed in his Bill.

The Bill will create new barriers to children gaining access to alcohol. It has the backing of the Portman Group, which represents the alcohol industry, and it proposes several measures, including closing a legal loophole that allows the courts to distinguish between the liability of the licensee and his or her employees by providing that anyone who makes a sale to a minor is liable to prosecution. The Bill will also create a new offence of proxy purchasing if someone over the age of 18 purchases alcohol for a minor—which is already a long-standing offence in Scotland.

I, too, became aware of the legal loophole through the death of David Knowles from the neighbouring constituency of Pudsey. He was bright boy in the top six at school for maths, and his ambition was to be a bank manager. His father described David as a serious young man who had acted completely out of character. He said that David might have got away with looking 15 in a bad light, but was obviously under age. David's father has said that if alcohol is sold to children, it is obvious to every right-thinking person that they could do damage to themselves, to others and to property. However, there is nothing to stop people selling alcohol to children, either out of carelessness or just to make a profit.

As we have heard this morning, even though the police seized video footage showing that David was served twice in the same off-licence, the prosecution of the staff collapsed because the licence holder did not directly employ them. That has exposed a large gap in the law that allows people who sell alcohol to young people to escape prosecution where, as is increasingly common in bigger chains, they are employed by a parent company, not by the licensee or the manager. Thousands of staff in off-licences and supermarkets can sell alcohol to children without fear of prosecution because of that loophole.

David's parents were distraught when they realised that no one could be brought to justice for selling their son the alcohol that led directly to his death. The Bill will close that loophole. It provides that anyone who makes a sale to a minor is liable to prosecution.

To tackle the problem of young people of 18 who buy alcohol legitimately and then pass it on to friends, the Bill creates a new offence that makes it unlawful for someone to buy alcohol in shops and off licences on behalf of a young person. It will also penalise passing adults who are prevailed on to make purchases for young people. An equivalent provision has existed in Scottish law since 1976. The proposed provision is intended to target adults who, whether they are known to the child or are strangers, will agree, often outside or close to a licensed premises, to buy alcohol to be passed on immediately to a child in the street.

A survey carried out by Professor Howard Parker of Manchester university in 1996 found that, of a representative sample of 13 to 16-year-olds in greater Manchester, 25 per cent. purchased alcohol for themselves, but that 53 per cent. obtained alcohol by asking older friends to buy it for them, and that 26 per cent. obtained alcohol by asking strangers to buy it for them. Of that latter group, there was a prevalence of girls, and of 13 to 14-year-olds. The dangers inherent in such vulnerable young girls approaching strangers for favours must be immediately obvious to hon. Members.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

I am following the hon. Lady's speech with interest. What will the Bill do to prevent the nuisance and mischief that she has just described?

Ms McCafferty

The Bill will make proxy purchase an offence. That will ensure that adults think very carefully before they allow themselves to be prevailed on by minors to buy alcohol on their behalf in off-licences, stores and supermarkets.

A number of benefits will follow from making proxy purchase an offence. It will clearly act as a deterrent to those who knowingly purchase alcohol on behalf of people under 18—as long as effective penalties are in place and the law is shown to be enforced. The low rates of prosecution in Scotland mean that many people there do not take the proxy purchase law very seriously. That should not deter support for the principle of the offence, but rather it should convince the Government and the responsible authorities that the offence must be backed up with adequate enforcement.

Secondly, it will lead to reductions in the levels of under-age misuse, provided that the legislation is accompanied by effective public education campaigning. That should aim to increase the awareness of the existence of the offence of proxy purchase, and to influence public attitudes, so that the purchase of alcohol on behalf of under-18s is regarded as morally and socially unacceptable, just as drink-driving is now considered to be morally reprehensible.

The Bill also complements the provisions of the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997, which was introduced by the former Conservative Member Dr. Robert Spink as a private Member's Bill under the previous Government. Ironically, however, it was finally enacted by this Government. That Act gives police the power to confiscate alcohol from under-18s who are consuming it—or are thought likely to do so—in public.

The Health Education Authority estimates that there are about 190,000 11 to 15-year-olds who regularly drink the equivalent of seven pints a week. It is clear that the figures relating to convictions for under-age purchase of alcohol and sale to minors do not reflect the true extent of the problem. In 1995, only 269 people were found guilty or were cautioned for selling alcohol to under-18s, and 351 people under the age of 18 were found guilty or were cautioned for buying or trying to buy alcohol.

I believe that the introduction of test purchasing would give greater impetus to one or more of the identity schemes currently in existence. In my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) a total of 2,360 Portman Group cards have been issued to over-18s. I understand that between 5,000 and 10,000 cards a month are issued nationally. I believe that retailers will be much more likely routinely to ask young people to prove their age if they know that they can be subject to test purchasing. I am pleased that the Government are looking at that very carefully.

The vast majority of those who make and sell alcoholic drinks in the UK welcome the provisions of this Bill. Indeed, the call for test purchasing and for an offence of proxy purchase has been supported repeatedly by organisations related to the trade and the industry. The members of the Portman Group are the nine leading drinks manufacturers in the UK, and their work is generally supported throughout the industry and the licensed trade as a whole. Last year, the group submitted a paper in response to the consultation by the Department of Health on alcohol strategy. It called for all the legislative changes proposed in the Bill, and made the point that the measure would complement the progress made in the industry towards tackling alcohol abuse.

There is a great deal of evidence that alcohol sales to minors lead to unsupervised drinking and alcohol abuse that reaches down even to primary school level. Along with many hon. Members and health professionals, I am extremely concerned about the potential adverse effect on physically immature children who often drink well beyond levels recommended for adults.

In my view, under-age drinking is a very serious social problem and people are understandably and justifiably worried about it. I have had many complaints from constituents about the problems caused by the minority of youngsters who get into trouble because of drink. I have campaigned previously about how some drinks—the so-called alcopops—seem to target young people deliberately.

Alcopops are not the only drinks illegally obtained by youngsters, but they represent a very worrying trend. Many are especially dangerous because their strength is masked by fruit or other flavours. That breaks down awareness of the alcohol content and children's traditional taste threshold. Equally worrying is the fact that many such drinks are fashion items, packaged and marketed in a way that is attractive to teenagers and even to younger children.

Education about alcohol is already a specific and statutory requirement for schools as part of the national curriculum, but it is as much the responsibility of parents and carers as it is of teachers and youth workers to ensure that young people who drink under their supervision consume alcohol in safe quantities.

Dr. Lynne Friedli, the Health Education Authority's alcohol programme manager, has said: Drinking is such a central part of our social life today that parents may sometimes underestimate the harm it can do. While they are understandably worried about illegal drugs, it is important to realise the range of problems that alcohol can cause their children. The main problem is that in some areas it is too easy for children to get hold of alcohol. Urgent action is needed.

The measures in this Bill will give the police and the courts real powers to stamp out the problem, and especially to tackle the minority of irresponsible retailers and adults who either deliberately flout the law, or simply turn a blind eye to under-age sales. The measures represent a great improvement in the range of measures that are available to tackle under-age alcohol misuse.

I pay tribute to the liquor and retail industries for their readiness to address the social problems arising from the products that they sell and for their support for the Bill. However, there must be no let-up in the fight against under-age drinking and the misery that it causes.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey on introducing this Bill and on having the tenacity to see it through this far. I commend the Bill to the House.

11.39 am
Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I worked extensively with the previous Member of Parliament representing Pudsey, Sir Giles Shaw. In his latter years in Parliament, he did a tremendous amount, as Chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, to work on a consensual basis in the House. It gives me great pleasure to support my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), who has approached this Bill in the same way. Perhaps it is something in the water in Pudsey that encourages people to think in a consensual way in trying to get important measures through the House.

From what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) said, it is clear, even without the scientific survey to which she referred, that the physical evidence of under-age drinking and the circumstances that cause disruption, particularly to elderly people, is there for all to see. We must take a responsible view as a society to bring that under control.

Having been brought up in a Mediterranean country, I am certainly not opposed to young people drinking, but it must be in a responsible way. Having access to alcohol in an unsupervised way is irresponsible and leads to huge risks. Close to my office there is a lovely bowling green, which is regularly scattered with empty beer cans. It is clear from the evidence that the drinkers are youngsters who are substantially under age and cause disruption to the older, more mature people using the facilities. So this Bill is very important.

The right hon. Members for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) referred to internet sales. "Booze.com" is not yet a reality, although I suspect that it may become one in the future, and the right hon. Gentlemen were quite right to mention it. However, there are important issues that the Government must get to grips with. Class A drugs are available on the internet, and there must therefore be a risk that illicit sales of alcohol will start to be made on the internet in the near future.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

The hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that, from his office, he could see people drinking and leaving their beer cans around, and that it was clear that a number of the drinkers were under age. As a matter of interest, did the hon. Gentleman ever ring up the police to report this?

Mr. Miller

Yes, I did and yes, they came and yes, there is work going on with the bowling club and the local authority. It has been a positive result from the use of CCTV in my constituency.

We need to look at the intermediate technologies that are being widely used by supermarkets. There is a problem in that a number of supermarkets are, quite legitimately, developing sophisticated businesses based on call centre technology, that enable people to go back to the sort of circumstances that used to exist. I wonder whether, as his first entrepreneurial activity, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst worked as a delivery boy for the local greengrocer. It strikes me as the sort of activity that he would have undertaken in his youth. Of course, the world has turned full circle, and such direct deliveries, without the customer having to interface with the shopkeeper, is coming back. I think that it is an extremely good thing, especially for people living in rural communities.

In that context, will my hon. Friend the Minister say whether, under proposed subsection 169F(1), it is his understanding that a person who works in licensed premises would be the delivery person for those premises? That would mean that two categories of persons would be involved—a direct employee of the licensed premises and an agent. If someone collects goods from licensed premises that he then delivers to the customer, it seems reasonable for the courts to say that he is a direct employee of the licensed premises and therefore has responsibilities under this measure. There seems to be a potential loophole in this loophole-closing Bill if the "booze.com" kind of business develops. I do not think that that will become widespread and prevalent in the next few years, because bulky goods do not make for such attractive business propositions in this area, so there is time to consider it. However, it must be considered.

There can also be a problem when the delivery mechanism is an agent of the supplier of the goods. We have discussed intellectual property and the role of internet service providers. Clearly, we are not talking about that in this context, but we are talking about companies such as Parcelforce or the Post Office acting as an agent for the supplier. We do not want such companies to be held responsible for actions of which they are not the cause. However, Post Office legislation provides that, if it is brought to the attention of the agent that there is a risk that it is in breach of the law, it should take reasonable steps to rectify the matter.

These areas will need to be considered in the longer term. In the short term, I would be grateful if my hon. Friend would cover the question of interpretation.

This may be a small Bill, but it is of great significance to all our constituents. I endorse the points made by Opposition Members. I hope that the Bill receives a speedy passage in the other place and that it goes on to the statute book in the very near future. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey on his tenacity in driving his Bill through the House, and I wish it well.

11.48 am
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

I start by agreeing with the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) that, although this is a small measure in terms of paper, it is none the less important, because it goes to the heart of one of the most concerning aspects of our modern society—the dangers to young people.

The House will have been impressed by the comments of the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Ms McCafferty), who clearly showed concern and emotion over the Knowles case. I found it particularly poignant when she said that David Knowles had wanted to be a bank manager. Across the country there are young people with hopes, dreams and aspirations. There are so many opportunities in life—he may not have ended up as a bank manager, but he could have lived a happy, rewarding life in which he achieved things and felt that he had been successful. Yet, because he came across a danger in society, he did not have the opportunity to do that.

Earlier this week, I went to Manchester to launch the Junior 2000 Crucial Crew project—set up by the Manchester crime prevention panel to explain the dangers of modern life to young people. It is a fantastic project. One of the aspects covered is substance and alcohol abuse. Many people volunteer to take part in such projects, but we in Parliament have a special duty to do our part in setting up a legal framework to address the problems.

On behalf of the Opposition, I welcomed the Bill on Second Reading and I continue to do so. It closes the loophole that was so damaging in the Knowles case. Obviously, I extend again the tributes paid by many right hon. and hon. Members to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell).

On Second Reading, a range of issues designed to test whether the Bill could go further were introduced. My hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman), for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) and for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) all raised the issue of proxy purchasing, whereby an adult is persuaded to enter licensed premises to buy alcohol for someone who is under age.

My hon. Friend the Member for Meriden pointed out that it is an established practice. Everything that we have heard in today's debate—from the hon. Members for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) and for Calder Valley and Opposition Members—confirms that point. It is thus especially welcome that, in Committee, the hon. Member for Pudsey was prepared to table an amendment that makes it an offence to buy or to attempt to buy alcohol on behalf of a person who is under 18. We welcome that.

Today, however, several right hon. and hon. Members have made the point that the amendment may not go far enough. When the Spink Bill became law, it meant that, if an adult purchased alcohol on behalf of a young person, when that person came out of the licensed premises and handed the alcohol to the young person, it would have been possible for the police to confiscate the alcohol. However, the measure did not make it an offence to arrange for an adult to go to licensed premises and purchase the alcohol. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) said, it might be worth considering whether it would be possible to make an offence from the point of view of the young person. If young people know that it is not an offence to persuade an adult to do that, perhaps there is not enough constraint on them.

I hope that the Minister will consider the point made by my right hon. Friend. Is there some way of tightening up on the young person who is consuming alcohol in a public place, or who is arranging for a proxy purchase? Will the Minister confirm that the points made in the debate will be considered as responses to the White Paper? Will they be taken into account when draft legislation is considered?

Among the tributes paid to the hon. Member for Pudsey was that he had focused his Bill. He has stuck to issues that he knows command the support of the whole House. That is the correct approach to a private Member's Bill. Indeed, how could I possibly deny that, when I am told that no less a man than Winston Churchill approved of that approach? That is what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) tells us, and I am sure that he is right.

There are several issues that the Minister should attempt to deal with, given his own knowledge and experience, to which is no doubt added the benefit of advice from his civil servants. My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border asked how the defence would be mounted. How would the licensee or the worker prove that they had been duly diligent? It was asked whether it would be necessary for the licensee or the worker to have asked to see proof of identification in order to satisfy a court that due diligence had been exercised.

That point was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, so it is incumbent on the Minister to explain how the defence would work. In his view, what practical measures would licensees and workers have to take?

A point was made about the scale of penalties. Is it right that the licensee should receive the same penalty as, for example, the regular worker at a supermarket checkout? Should there be a higher maximum for a person who holds a more responsible position in the chain of command? I am sure that the Minister will want to touch on that in his remarks.

The Minister was asked whether proposed new section 169H would be likely to be repealed as a result of the White Paper. Obviously, he will not be able to tell us his final conclusion on that matter, but perhaps he could give us a picture of current thinking.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough referred to the way in which the prosecution would approach such cases. Is enough effort being put into mounting prosecutions in these circumstances, or are such cases seen as difficult to prosecute and not given full attention? Are prosecutions effective? When a prosecution is mounted, is it likely to succeed? What are the figures? Are prosecutions generally successful or is there a substantial proportion of acquittals?

The wider social problems were mentioned—such as the fact that football hooliganism and other forms of vandalism are fuelled by drink. Does the Minister have a view as to ways in which the law needs to be further tightened up?

The hon. Member for Garston asked for test purchasing and explained the concerns in her constituency. There are doubts as to the civil liberties aspects of test purchasing and the effect on young people. What is the Government's current thinking on that matter? From the White Paper, one has the impression that the Government support test purchasing, but it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst raised a number of points that have formed a theme in our deliberations on the Bill. Does the use of the words "in licensed premises" as the point of sale in the offence affect internet sales? One would think that it does. Is the Minister satisfied that there are no substantial internet sales at present? Credit cards are available to under-18s and a small number of under-18-year-olds hold debit cards. Is the Minister satisfied with that situation or does he think that research should be carried out? On Second Reading, I asked whether he would be prepared to initiate such research and I note that his hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston is also concerned about that matter. It would be helpful to know whether the words "in licensed premises" do not include internet sales—I assume that they do not. Now that the Minister has had time over the past two months to ponder the matter, does he think that research is needed?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst wanted to know whether it will be an offence to purchase alcohol for someone under 18 if that person drinks it outside the premises. It seems to me that it will not be an offence, and I understand that there would be difficulties for pub gardens and similar areas if it were. Does the Minister think that the provisions in the Spink Bill, which is now the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997, cover such cases?

We heard in the debate much about the speed at which the operators of tills in supermarkets have to work. Is the Minister satisfied that, in that environment, proper protection is in place? Is it possible in such circumstances to ask for identification? Does he need to consult the supermarkets about how they operate their tills and about their staffing levels, so that we can ensure that proper time is given to the important process of checking identification?

The amendments on proxy purchasing raised the concern that parents who buy alcohol for a family meal at which a child might responsibly be introduced to alcohol might be caught by the Bill's provisions. In Committee, the Minister reassured us that the wording used would not bring such parents into the offence, and that the provision would apply only if the purchase was made on behalf of a young person. Will he confirm that, so that there is no doubt?

The Portman Group, Alcohol Concern and the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association have all welcomed the Bill. We continue our support for it. David Knowles died in a tragic way and his family will no doubt still find that the most traumatic experience. However, as the hon. Member for Pudsey said, the passing of the Bill may give them some comfort as a memorial to David Knowles. We express our condolences to the family and we hope that the Bill will protect young people so that they can fulfil their hopes and aspirations without falling into the dangers that have been described in this debate.

12.1 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

I welcome this further opportunity to join both sides of the House in commending the decision of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) to introduce this Bill, and his skilful piloting of it through the House. He has built on the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Ms McCafferty) and others, who also deserve credit for this measure. I am grateful to both sides of the House for their contributions to the debate, which have always been sensible and well thought out. Indeed, throughout the discussions on the Bill, the comments made have been considered, careful and of value.

The Government share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey about the unlawful sale of alcohol to young people. Once again, I am happy to reiterate our strong support for the Bill. The White Paper "Time for reform", which was published on 10 April, showed that we consider the protection of children to be one of the primary purposes of licensing law. The importance of the Bill should not be underestimated.

Because the Government are poised to embark on major reforms of licensing arrangements, it might well be asked, "Do we need this Bill now?" We do, because the process of consulting on the main licensing Bill will take time. My hon. Friend has given us an opportunity to take prompt action on an urgent issue and to change the existing law now. We are grateful to him for that. It will mean that those who evade prosecution for selling to minors and for irresponsibly buying alcohol on behalf of children will be dealt with more effectively without the delay that there could otherwise have been. The two to three years before we have major reform is a period in which children and their families might have suffered unnecessarily if it were not for the Bill. He has given us an opportunity to avoid that prospect.

We agree that our licensing laws are out of date and dreadfully old fashioned. My hon. Friend's Bill focuses on the use of the term "servant". Parliament, at one time, believed that "master and servant" would cover all employees responsible for selling alcohol and thought that the term provided sufficient protection for the general public and for children. Modern case law has stood Parliament's intention on its head. The words have now come to be used only as a means of evading prosecution. We can and should put that right.

My hon. Friend set out the circumstances that led to the tragic death of David Knowles. The case highlighted the problem of those employed by national chains of off-licences. However, there are other problems with the outdated wording. The term "servant" in the existing law does not include an agent who acts on behalf of the licensee, but who is not an employee. For example, the wife or husband of a licence holder working in an off-licence in an unpaid capacity may be immune from prosecution for selling to under-age children. Similarly, a brother or other family member serving in the shop could escape prosecution. In 1996, the conviction of the husband of a licensee for selling alcohol to a 14-year-old was quashed in the divisional court because there was no evidence of a master-servant relationship. Hon. Members will be aware that many high street off-licences are run by families, so it would be wrong if a licensee could evade prosecution by putting responsibility into the hands of his or her spouse. The Bill will address that further loophole.

I take this opportunity to praise my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey for the amendment that he moved in Committee, which gives the Bill the extra teeth that it needs. It is a sad indictment of our society that there are adults willing to act as the agents of youngsters to enable them to get hold of alcohol. The new offence is another measure to help us to fight the problems of under-age drinking.

The reforms proposed by my hon. Friend are sensible and fair. Hon. Members will note that under the Bill, the offences of selling to minors and buying on their behalf cannot be committed if the adults involved have been genuinely duped about a child's age. In Committee, I explained that the courts should rule on the extent to which adults had behaved reasonably in seeking to establish the child's age and whether they had been deceived.

There must be evidence of age to support a conviction, but evidence about whether the defendant had been reasonably deceived, as opposed to turning a blind eye, would have to be produced by the prosecution. Indeed, the defence may well want to produce such evidence, which, if necessary, may involve producing the child in court. I understand that that has become a common means of establishing either a defence or the case for the prosecution, and is usually the heart of the matter when a not-guilty plea has been entered. Producing the child has the great merit of solid reliance on common sense. If, after seeing the child, the court is of the opinion that the defendant must have turned a blind eye to the child's age, it may well decide to convict.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) asked about the steps that an employer could take to show a defence under proposed new section 169A(2). He suggested that an employer could show that he had trained his staff and that they had clear orders not to sell to people under 18. He also suggested that the employer could demonstrate that he had shown due diligence in minimising the chances of an under-age person being served. All those things would be material facts for the court to consider. However, deciding what is sufficient is a matter for the court.

Requesting a card would be a material factor which a court could weigh in the balance. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the employer actually had to do something or whether he could be passive. That depends: it may be clear that the person is under 18—or, more likely, it may be clear that he is over 18. If the right hon. Gentleman appeared in an off-licence, he would not expect the licensee to have to do something to establish that he was of an age at which he could buy alcohol.

Mr. Leigh

May I question the Minister more closely on his interpretation of subsections (2) and (3) of proposed new section 169A? Subsection (3) refers to due diligence and deals with someone who is charged as a result of his employee's fault. It is therefore clear that the employer has to exercise due diligence, perhaps in the way in which he trains his staff. However, subsection (2) makes no requirement of the employee who sells the alcohol to exercise due diligence. Have I got that wrong? I am worried by what the Minister has said, because if the child is produced in court and the court decides that he appears to be 18, the employee will be let off, as the Bill makes no requirement for that person to exercise due diligence.

Mr. O'Brien

I shall examine the clause with care, but my understanding is that the employee and the employer would both be required to be diligent. Let me advance my argument, and I shall let the hon. Gentleman come back if he wishes.

On the point made by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border about due diligence, where a reasonable person would have doubts about the age of the person trying to buy alcohol, a request for information about age or for a card would become material factors in addressing the question whether due diligence was exercised. It is essentially a matter for the court to decide whether the licensee and his staff had behaved reasonably.

Under proposed new section 169A(3), it is for the defendant to prove that he exercised all due diligence. Once the evidence of the purchase has been produced and there is clear proof that the purchase was made, the defendant must prove that he exercised due diligence. The prosecution has the burden of proof in terms of the usual criminal responsibilities. The prosecution does not have to prove that the licensee did not exercise due diligence. It is for the licensee to prove that he did.

Mr. Leigh

I am grateful to the Minister. I know that it is difficult to answer legalistic but vital points. Proposed new section 169A(3) states: It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) of this section, where he is charged by reason of the act or default of some other person, to prove that he exercised all due diligence ߪ That is fine. It is clear. However, the phrase "due diligence" applies where the person employs someone else. I do not see that it applies to the person who actually made the sale, under subsection (2). That is what worries me.

Mr. O'Brien

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's point with care. It is my understanding that the Bill would cover that. I shall take advice and respond in due course—[Interruption.] I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who has provided me with the answers with due speed and due diligence.

Proposed new section 169A(2) refers to the person who is selling, and subsection (3) applies to the employer. The aim is that both would be required to show that they had no reason to suspect that the person who bought the alcohol was under 18. The employee would have to show that, and the employer would have an obligation to show that he had exercised due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence. That is the approach that would be taken.

Mr. Leigh

Will the Minister give way on that point, which is so important?

Mr. O'Brien

I give way once more.

Mr. Leigh

We have now clarified the matter. "Due diligence" would apply to the employer, not the employee. That is my point.

Mr. O'Brien

In terms of the strict wording of the Bill, the answer is yes. However, in terms of individual behaviour, the employee at the counter, serving a person who comes in and presents cash and appears to be under age, would have to show what we might in general parlance call "due diligence". In other words, he would have to prove that he had no reason to suspect that the person was under age. The phrase "due diligence" is not used in subsection (2), as it is in subsection (3), but the effect is much the same, although the employee and employer would show due diligence in different ways.

The employee would have to say, "May I have your card? May I make sure that you are of an age to purchase alcohol?", whereas the employer would not be in a position to make a direct request of the potential purchaser. He must show, in the ways that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border suggested or in other ways, that he has been diligent in telling his staff to exercise reasonable care—and perhaps diligence.

In Committee, I undertook to consult the Magistrates Association to make sure that it had no concerns about the defences that we have discussed and their operation in relation to under-age sales and proxy purchase. The association stressed that magistrates are used to determining such matters, and will take the view that they can deal with the provisions. Indeed, they welcome the Bill, which has the full support of the Magistrates Association. The association welcomes the closing of a loophole that has caused magistrates anxiety, and the decision to tackle the problem of proxy purchase. I am therefore confident that the available defences will work effectively in the interests of justice.

The simple message for retailers and off-licence staff who are anxious about the new offences and the operation of the defences is that if they do not know the age of the person standing in the shop, they should not sell to them. Most cases will be as simple as that. If customers appear to be under 18, staff should not sell to them.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border referred to the role of magistrates in the transfer of specific responsibilities to local authorities, which the White Paper mentions. He drew our attention especially to proposed new section 169H, and asked whether justices would be able to impose penalties. Even after the reforms have been undertaken, justices will impose penalties, including revocation of the licence, under our scheme. The Bill may be able to stand through the review, although I suspect that we may want to consolidate it. However, we may continue with the current wording. Magistrates will therefore retain a substantial role, but under our proposals, local authorities will be primarily responsible for the administrative process of issuing or varying licences.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border raised another matter that worries me. He mentioned checkout staff in supermarkets, and pointed out that they often work under great pressure and that there are sometimes queues. I am also worried that some of the checkout staff are under 18. We need to convey a clear message that under-18s must be supervised, and have someone in authority over them, when they sell alcohol to anyone. I advise supermarkets and their managements that if they allow anyone under 18 to sell alcohol without sufficient supervision, and without someone who can authorise a particular sale, they risk prosecution. We may need to revert to that and clarify it in the review of the White Paper.

It is an offence for a person under 18 to sell alcohol to anyone. A checkout person who is under 18 may therefore be committing an offence. That may also apply to the licensee, who commits an offence if he knowingly allows a checkout girl or boy under 18 to sell in the licensed premises. The licensee may therefore be vulnerable. Supervision and authority are necessary to ensure that the sale is properly carried out with due diligence in the context that we are considering. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border raised an important issue on supermarkets, which I shall consider carefully during the licensing review that we are undertaking.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) asked about the national alcohol strategy. We intend to bring it forward reasonably shortly, and it will dovetail well with our proposals in the White Paper. I am especially grateful to him for raising concerns not only about under-age drinking generally, but about the impact that drinking, under age or otherwise, can have on health.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) asked whether the level 3 fine—£1,000—is a sufficient deterrent to large companies, such as Thresher. We have taken the view that we shall take the approach outlined in the Bill. However, the question that he asks is pertinent, and in the overall review of licensing that we are undertaking, I should like to consider in greater detail the impact of such fines on large companies.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) referred to the way in which the words "in licensed premises" limit the nature of the offences. He raised the issue of internet sales and the purchase of alcohol using debit or credit cards. We are examining that issue in the context of the White Paper. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) also referred to it, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), who is far better versed in the internet and computers than I am.

There is currently little evidence that under-age people use the internet extensively to purchase alcohol. Under-age drinkers tend to seek instant gratification from alcohol purchases. Of course, a delay is involved in getting alcohol through internet sales, and therefore there is apparently little such use of the internet. However, if we are to be successful in preventing access to purchases from off-licences under the Bill, we must be vigilant so that the internet does not present a problem in future.

I assure all hon. Members who have raised that issue that we are conscious of it. If I remember rightly, I referred to it in the White Paper, and during previous debates on the Bill I have certainly told the House that we shall consider it in the overall context of licensing—but it is a complex matter. We do not want unnecessary or heavy-handed regulation; we need to ensure that we are vigilant in ending opportunities for under-age drinking where we can do so.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst also referred to the word "knowingly" in section 169. I am satisfied that we have got the wording right, as far as we can. In my experience, no Bill is immune from the ingenuity of lawyers in reinterpreting it, but my advice is that we have done the best we can, and we must proceed on that basis. The right hon. Gentleman asked about people who drink alcohol on pavements outside bars. That matter was amply dealt with by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border, who, from his own experience, told us that it had been addressed.

The hon. Member for Gainsborough set out—I thought very well—the case for test purchasing. I agree with him that it involves creating an attitude of mind among those who sell alcohol, so that they know how to approach the business. I understand the concerns expressed by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. He is worried about the impact on test purchasers if they are under 18. We shall have to debate that issue fully another day. I do not wish to say much more about it, except that the Government's view is that test purchasing is necessary, but I shall seek reassurance about its likely impact on the under-age test purchasers that the authorities could use in such exercises.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston asked about the delivery boy or girl who does not work in the off-licence but is, in effect, an agent. That is a difficult area, which we must examine in the context of the White Paper. He asked how the Bill would operate. That depends to some extent on whether the person who makes the delivery is acting with the authority of the licensee. A prosecution may be against the licensee who authorised the delivery without exercising due diligence as to how it was carried out. If the alcohol was handed over by an agent to a person under 18, the person who had authorised that delivery might be liable, but that would be a matter for the courts.

The issue must be reviewed in our examination of how internet sales operate. If there were a growth of internet sales, businesses such as "booze.com" would probably get agents or other companies and their employees to make the deliveries. We must be careful about how the law is enforced.

Mr. Miller

Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to distinguish between the employee and the agent of the off-licence or supermarket? In advancing the development of electronic sales, we must not put unreasonable pressure on intermediaries. The responsibility must be held by the seller.

Mr. O'Brien

My hon. Friend is right that the onus should primarily be on the seller, who should exercise due diligence to ensure that the alcohol does not find its way into the wrong hands by means of his agents. We will want to take that approach.

Mr. Heald

Will there be an opportunity to see how the Bill operates with regard to off-licences, and the impact on internet sales, before the proposed licensing Bill comes before the House? I think the Minister said that the Bill will change the law two or three years ahead of the likely date at which the licensing Bill will become law. Is that right? Will there be a gap of a year or 18 months in which we can see how this Bill operates before the licensing Bill comes before the House?

Mr. O'Brien

There will inevitably be a gap. I hope that this Bill will become law fairly shortly, that there will be a period during which we can assess how it operates, and that we will then be able to consider the issues that arise from that and from the White Paper. Consultation on the White Paper is taking place. When parliamentary time allows, we will consider introducing legislation. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire knows from his own experience of government that those issues, and the timing, will have to be discussed in government.

Mr. Heald


Mr. O'Brien

I am afraid that I cannot give much more information about the timing. The hon. Gentleman will also know from his experience of government that it is likely to be a year at the earliest before we produce any legislation. We will want to allow some time for the phasing in, and there will be transitional provisions for the adoption of the administrative changes that the White Paper proposes. We will need a reasonable lead-in period. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman wants to pin me down on the timing, but I am unable to assist him, except to say that consultation is taking place, and there will be an opportunity for the operation of this Bill, if it is made law as I expect it will be, to be considered in the context of that consultation. We will introduce legislation in due course.

Mr. Heald

All we need to know, is that there is no proposal to make the major reform of licensing, in the form of the licensing Bill, in the autumn. If that does not happen, we shall have time to see how the internet sales go.

Mr. O'Brien

The hon. Gentleman is quite right.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst raised the subject of proposed new section 169F, which deals with knowingly delivering rather than selling. He asked whether it was likely that we would secure any convictions. I see no reason why we should not—if, indeed, that is where we experience a major problem. The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the provision is more indirect, but I can conceive of circumstances in which the section would be used—albeit, I hope, with decreasing frequency as we reduce the amount of offending. For all of us, that must be the hope.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border raised the issue of proof-of-age cards. The Department for Education and Employment is considering whether the youth card planned for those remaining in higher education can include a photograph and date of birth. We are awaiting the findings of the working party. The card is not intended to be a replacement for the Portman card as such. There are a number of cards, many of which do enormously valuable jobs. There is, for instance, a citizen card. We strongly support those initiatives, many of which have come from the industry.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire referred to the fuelling of hooliganism by alcohol. That is a serious issue, which is being considered in the broad context of criminal law enforcement, and also in the context of the licensing review. The hon. Gentleman asked whether we should make a young person who seeks to obtain a proxy purchase liable. I would want to consider that in the context of the White Paper licensing review. I shall also bear in mind the issues raised by other hon. Members about the overall review of licensing law.

The Bill deserves the support of every Member, and I do not hesitate to give it our full backing.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.