HC Deb 12 May 2000 vol 349 cc1119-82 9.33 am
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 1, line 8, after "in" insert "or from".

Madam Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 54, in page 1, line 8, after "in" insert "or through".

No. 5, in page 1, line 9, after "he" insert "knowingly".

No. 19, in page 1, line 9, after "sells" insert— 'or offers for sale or otherwise supplies, whether for payment or not,'. No. 24, in page 1, line 23, after "in" insert "or from".

No. 55, in page 1, line 23, after "in" insert "or through".

No. 15, in page 1, line 24, leave out "knowingly".

No. 58, in page 1, line 24, after "allows" insert "or facilitates".

No. 26, in page 1, line 24, leave out "person" and insert "employee or agent".

No. 9, in page 1, line 24, after "sell" insert— ', or is recklessly indifferent as to whether any person sells,'. No. 25, in page 1, line 24, after "sell" insert— 'or offer for sale or otherwise supply, whether for payment or not,'. No. 27, in page 1, line 26, leave out— 'Subsection (1) of this section applies to' and insert— 'In this section "employee" means'. No. 28, in page 1, line 27, after first "in" insert "or from".

No. 56, in page 1, line 27, after first "in" insert "or through".

No. 57, in page 2, line 4, after "in" insert "or through".

No. 30, in page 2, line 4, after "buy" insert "or otherwise obtain".

No. 32, in page 2, line 7, after "buy" insert "or otherwise obtain".

No. 59, in page 2, line 10, after "bar" insert "or similar facility".

No. 37, in page 2, line 27, leave out "in a bar".

No. 10, in page 2, line 30, leave out "knowingly".

No. 17, in page 2, line 30, after "knowingly" insert "or recklessly".

No. 39, in page 2, line 40, after "sold" insert "or otherwise obtained from".

No. 18, in page 3, line 9, after "knowingly" insert "or recklessly".

No. 44, in page 3, line 10, after second "sold" insert "or otherwise provided".

No. 45, in page 3, line 15, at end insert "or provision.".

No. 53, in clause 3, page 4, line 7, at end insert— '(4) The provisions of this Act shall apply to the House of Commons as if it were licensed premises.'.

Mr. Gardiner

It may interest the House to know that I had a long-standing invitation from the residents of the Abbeyfield home in the Kenton ward of my constituency to partake of refreshment with them. However, instead of drinking coffee with some of our senior citizens, I find myself trying to prevent drinking among our most junior citizens. I tender my apologies to the Abbeyfield residents, but I am sure that they will appreciate the importance of this Bill, and I trust that I will be able to share a cuppa—and I dare say something even stronger—with them at a later date.

Clause 1 states: A person shall be guilty of an offence if, in licensed premises, he sells intoxicating liquor to a person under eighteen. Amendment No. 20 is intended to support the Bill and the aims set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), as are all the others that I have tabled. My hon. Friend is held in great respect in the House for his campaigning work on behalf of his constituents, and many colleagues have admired the work that he has done to close the loopholes in the Licensing Act 1964. That Act made it an offence for a licensee or his servant to sell alcoholic drinks to a person under 18, but no offence was committed if the servant was a person who was not directly employed by the licensee. Where off-licence staff are the employees of a large retail chain rather than of the manager who holds the licence for the branch, under the 1964 Act no action can be taken if a member of that staff sells alcohol to a child.

My hon. Friend had particular and tragic cause to set about this reform of the licensing law. The death of his young constituent, David Knowles, was precipitated by sales of alcohol under the circumstances that I have described—indeed, two such sales took place inside five minutes. It is clear that the law must be changed. The amendment would not detract from the Bill; it has been tabled with the sole aim of making the Bill stronger.

The clause talks about people "in" licensed premises selling intoxicating liquor. Colloquially, people often talk about things falling "off' the back of a lorry, and much of the alcohol sold in Britain today seems to have come from precisely that source. However, my intention with the amendment is to focus on the preposition "in", and on the ways in which alcohol can be sold.

Any hon. Member who has been to a car boot sale will know that the law states that goods should be displayed in the car boot. However, all sorts of racks and tables are used that I have never seen in any Halfords store. It is clear that the use of the word "in" is often abused in practice.

When I was much younger, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I used to spend my holidays just down the coast from your constituency, in West Kilbride in Ayrshire, which I am sure that you know well. In those days, it was common for Rose, a young friend of mine, to be sent by her parents for two cans "from round the back". That meant that Rose went to the back door of the pub, where she was able to purchase a couple of cans of Tennents lager.

From 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 premises.

Amendment. No. 19 applies to the provision that a person shall be guilty of an offence if he sells intoxicating liquor to a person under 18. I have no doubt that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, like me, have little time to watch television. One of the things that I have seen in the past few months, however, is an advertisement for a Belgian lager, Stella Artois, which prides itself on being very expensive. I have no knowledge of the brew myself, but I understand that it is quite popular in pubs up and down the country. In the advertisement, a person enters a continental hostelry with a bunch of flowers and offers it to the licensee in return for refreshment. The landlord drives a peculiarly hard bargain, because by the end of the advertisement, the hostelry is bedecked with flowers—red roses or red tulips, I think.

The point of that humorous example is to prove that the clause's reference to selling alcohol is not sufficient to catch all the ways in which it may be provided on the premises to people who wish to obtain it. My amendment would make provision for any type of supply, whether through exchange or barter, or whether payment is involved when the refreshment is provided.

Credit sales are not permitted under the existing legislation except when food is also provided—one must partake of a meal in order to deposit a credit card and run a tab. The law is already much abused in practice, and it has become customary for people to run a tab. I am mindful of the old cartoon strip in which Andy Capp used to go into the bar and put his purchases on the slate. Andy was frequently refused any more beverages because he already had far too much on the slate and his credit had run out. However, the law actually provides that one should not be supplied with drink on credit in that fashion.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Some pubs offer deals, so if they have an Oktoberfest, for example, and one buys a meal of Wiener schnitzel and German sausages, one might be able to have alcohol with it. Would such a situation be covered by the amendment?

9.45 am
Mr. Gardiner

My understanding is that that is the sort of situation in which credit would apply because a meal is provided. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it seems ludicrous that, for the duration of an entire beer festival, one should be able to keep on drinking on the basis of having bought one Wiener schnitzel.

The amendment would strengthen the clause where it provides that a person shall be guilty of an offence if, in licensed premises, he sells intoxicating liquor … and would make it clear that accepting other forms of payment such as exchange, barter, gifts and credit would also constitute an offence.

Amendment No. 25 applies to the provision of knowingly allowing any person to sell intoxicating liquor to a person under 18 and would insert the same words as proposed in amendment No. 19. I do not propose to rehearse the same arguments, because it is clear that the rationale for the amendments, as I argued in relation to amendment No. 19—

Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston)

Is my hon. Friend absolutely clear that the rationale would be the same for each of these offences? They range from people selling alcohol, allowing somebody under their control to sell it, purchasing alcohol and sending someone else to purchase it. Is the rationale for the amendments exactly the same for all those offences?

Mr. Gardiner

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. The amendments make precisely the distinction to which she refers, between the sale of intoxicating liquor to a person under 18 and a licensee or manager allowing such a sale to take place. It is important that licensees should be totally in control of the situation on the licensed premises in which they operate and over which they have authority.

In the original tragic case to which I referred, which inspired my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey to introduce the Bill, I believe that the manager of the premises was not, even in the first instance, considered for prosecution by the police because he was deemed to have taken all appropriate steps in training and advising staff of the dangers of selling alcohol to minors. Therefore, only the staff who had actually sold the alcopops to the young man were initially subject to prosecution, which, sadly, had to be dropped at the third attempt by the Crown Prosecution Service after the case had been delayed.

I thank my hon. Friend for having raised that point. It is important that managers and licensees are in control when they allow sales by people under their authority in the pub—their agents. They must appreciate all the different ways in which alcohol can be provided—not just through sale but through other methods of supply.

Amendment No. 30 relates to proposed new section 169C of the 1964 Act, which deals with the purchase of intoxicating liquor by or for a person under 18. The Bill provides that a person under 18 shall be guilty of an offence if he buys or attempts to buy intoxicating liquor. Previous parts of the Bill deal with agents on licensed premises—the licensee or manager—and this part creates an offence if someone under age seeks to obtain intoxicating liquor on the premises. I use the word "obtain" because it reflects the intention of my amendment. The Bill should not cover only attempts to buy, because alcohol can be provided in different ways, including exchange, gift or credit, and those should be taken into account.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way. It seems sensible to try to close what might be a loophole, but can he give some statistics or assess the proportion of alcohol obtained, but not purchased, by those under 18? How serious a problem is that?

Mr. Gardiner

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Alcohol is provided to minors in many different ways in public houses. Many Members may be unaware that young people may legally obtain liquor on licensed premises. The hon. Gentleman may be as surprised as I was to learn that a 17-year-old may not buy intoxicating liquor at the bar of a public hostelry, but an 18-year-old may buy it, take it into the garden and—perfectly legally—provide beer, wine or even spirits to a child of only 10 or 11. That flies in the face of all that we want.

Maria Eagle

Parts of my constituency have a thriving black economy in which the bartering, swapping and giving of alcohol and other consumer goods—virtually anything one could want—occurs. I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern to define as tightly as possible. From experience, I can tell him that these things go on, even if it is not possible to produce statistics for the black economy.

Mr. Gardiner

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and well aware of the ways in which children engage in barter and exchange. My eight-year-old son, Cameron, has not yet graduated to barter and exchange for alcohol—nor will he, I trust—but Pokemon cards are a frequent source of conflict in the playground and elsewhere in my community. No doubt, many parents would sympathise with me on that score.

The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) asked about the amount of alcohol consumed by minors. In a 1998 survey of 14 to 15-year-olds, more than 50 per cent. of males and females said that they had, in the past seven days, obtained at least one of the following in one form or another: spirits, Martini, Cinzano, fortified wine, wine, alcopops, cider, low-alcohol beer, beer, lager or shandy. That is a startling statistic from a reputable study backed by the Department of Health's statistical bulletin. Many studies have been made, including by the Portman Group, of alcohol drinking and abuse among minors. It is vital to make the law as tight as possible. Amendment No. 30 would, therefore, make provision for forms of supply other than purchase, such as exchange, gift and credit.

Amendment No. 32 would add a similar provision to proposed new section 169C(2), which states: A person shall be guilty of an offence if, in licensed premises, he buys or attempts to buy intoxicating liquor on behalf of a person under eighteen. The amendment would again reinforce the Bill by ensuring that drinks cannot be passed on by a proxy.

Amendment No. 39 deals with the delivery of intoxicating liquor to a person under 18. Proposed new section 169F(1) states: A person who works in licensed premises, whether paid or unpaid, shall be guilty of an offence if he knowingly delivers to a person under eighteen intoxicating liquor sold— at which point I would insert "or otherwise obtained from"— in those premises for consumption off the premises. I thought carefully about that amendment as there are different forms of delivery.

The hon. Member for Lichfield has outlined the case of provision for someone else, and handing over intoxicating liquor to a person under 18 constitutes delivery of the sort that we wish to exclude. However, there is a form of delivery that may be perfectly proper, and I am pleased that the proposed new section takes account of that at subsection (4), which states: Subsections (1) and (2) of this section do not apply where— (a) the delivery is made at the residence or working place of the purchaser, or (b) the person under eighteen works in the licensed premises in a capacity, whether paid or unpaid, which includes the delivery of intoxicating liquor. The intention is not to stop a person—perhaps a trainee or a young man aged under 18—who, in the course of gainful employment, takes delivery of a consignment of alcohol. That would not be an offence.

10 am

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that my interventions are intended to be constructive so as to clarify a worthwhile measure. He might be aware that about 12 per cent. of all the alcohol consumed in the United Kingdom is imported through the channel ports. I was especially interested in this subsection because it refers to the delivery of alcohol. Does he believe that the provision and his amendment would cover the importation of alcohol that is then delivered to people aged under 18 for drinking at parties and so on?

Mr. Gardiner

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. The clause is not intended—nor should it be—to reinforce Customs and Excise provisions. Hon. Members are well aware of the smuggling problem. As the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, smuggled alcohol affects young people and under-age drinkers disproportionately because, as it is already illicit, it is sold on the black market, so the scrupulous controls exercised on licensed premises by licensees and their agents do not obtain.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire)

The hon. Gentleman has not quite addressed the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant). Alcohol coming in through the channel ports does not necessarily break Customs and Excise rules, nor is it always sold on the black market. Customs rules allow the import of alcohol bought in France for personal use. My understanding of that is that it would apply to a party.

If one showed an invitation—for example, to a 21st birthday party—Customs and Excise would allow alcohol to be brought in for personal use. Under the proposed amendment, it would be an offence for a person to buy a couple of cases of beer from an off-licence in Britain for a family party where under-18s were allowed to drink it, but if the alcohol for the party was bought in France it would not be an offence because it had not been bought in the UK. Is there not a conflict?

Mr. Gardiner

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying the intervention made by the hon. Member for Lichfield. I had not appreciated the full import of his question. However, the answer is no. The clause states: A person who works in licensed premises, whether paid or unpaid, shall be guilty of an offence if he knowingly delivers to a person under eighteen intoxicating liquor sold— and, if my amendment is accepted—"or otherwise obtained from"— those premises for consumption off the premises. The intoxicating liquor has to be obtained from those premises by someone employed there, so a person who imported intoxicating liquor from abroad would not be affected by the provision.

Mr. Paice

I beg to differ with the hon. Gentleman. Proposed new section 169C(2) states: A person shall be guilty of an offence if, in licensed premises, he buys or attempts to buy intoxicating liquor on behalf of a person under eighteen. Surely that means that if I bought a couple of cases of beer from an off-licence or a pub—knowing that I was going to make it available for under-18s—I should be guilty of an offence. That is why the provisions could be conflicting when liquor is imported.

Mr. Gardiner

I hesitate to point out to the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing amendment No. 39—it was on that provision that the hon. Member for Lichfield intervened. It relates to proposed new section 169F. I hope that clarifies the matter.

Maria Eagle

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way—I hope I am not putting him off his stride. When I first read this extremely worthy Bill, it struck me—coming from south Liverpool as I do—that many under-age drinkers obtain alcohol not from licensed premises but from other sources. If my hon. Friend's amendment—plus the ingenious proposal of the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant)—could be said to extend to those other deliveries that are not from licensed premises, would that not be wholly good for the prevention of under-age drinking? Of course, we should need to clarify the law so that people understand it—that is most important. Would it not help the purpose of Members on both sides of the House if we used our imagination, as suggested by the hon. Gentleman, so as to extend these worthy provisions more widely than the promoter of the Bill originally intended?

Mr. Fabricant

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you be prepared, during the course of the morning, to accept manuscript amendments to the Bill to enable us to extend it in the way suggested by the hon. Lady?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

The answer will be no.

Mr. Gardiner

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you never fail not to surprise me.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) about the inventiveness of the hon. Member for Lichfield. I should welcome many interpretations of the provisions that reduced drinking by minors. In some respects, the prospect held out by the hon. Gentleman of widening their scope is attractive. The White Paper and my investigations into the matter as a member of the licensing law reform panel make it clear that it is sensible for parents to be able to introduce their children to alcohol properly, in a measured way, within the confines of their own home, perhaps at the dinner table. The law has always allowed for that. The Government's view is that it offers a sensible way to introduce young people to alcohol under the supervision of their parents or of a responsible adult. Young people can learn to savour the quality of good beer, for example. Others might acquire a fine palate for good wine. They can be educated into sensible and moderate drinking.

I am not opposed to drinking, and I suspect many hon. Members are not opposed to drinking per se. However, we are opposed to irresponsible drinking and to the abuse of alcohol. In particular, we want to protect the under-18s from the dangers of unregulated exposure to alcohol.

I would shy away from extending the provisions of the clause in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Garston suggested.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)

I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman's exposition, but I am a little concerned about the proposed new section 169F, which relates to the delivery of intoxicating liquor to persons aged under 18. I am worried by its implications for the vexed question of internet sales, which I have tried, and the delivery systems of some companies appear to be quite good.

Let us suppose that, in a few years' time, the hon. Gentleman orders a case of wine from Tesco Direct, the licensed premises arm of the supermarket, and Cameron, who is now 17, answers the door, says, "Daddy is in the House of Commons" and takes delivery of the wine. The person who delivers is unsure whether the father has ordered the wine, so what would the effect of the new section 169F be in such a case? Intoxicating liquor has been delivered to someone under the age 18 even though a legitimate order was made by an adult.

Although I pose that question to the hon. Gentleman, I am conscious that perhaps the Minister should reply to it in detail when he winds up.

Mr. Gardiner

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's suffix to his question.

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

I am not.

Mr. Gardiner

I am not sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is so grateful.

The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely interesting point. Although the first half of the scenario painted would be covered by the point that no minor would have the credit card necessary to make an internet order, the clever second half of the example, in which the right hon. Gentleman envisages the door-step scenario of a youngster being present when the delivery is made, is one to which I have no ready answer.

Mr. Clive Efford (Eltham)

I wonder whether proposed new section 169F(4) would provide the answer to the question asked by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). It deals with whether a person is in place to prevent the delivery and was part of the act of purchasing.

Mr. Gardiner

My hon. Friend has been perspicacious in pointing that out. I had forgotten that I began by saying that proposed section 169F(4) would cover that point. Under paragraph (a), the provisions would not apply if the delivery is made at the residence or working place of the purchaser. The Bill has taken account of the very point that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) raised.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

Would not the point made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), about sales that are made not through licensed premises but through other means, be covered by other provisions? Surely, it is an offence to sell alcohol outside licensed premises. Are we not right in wanting to channel sales into the lawful category of licensed sales and then to regulate them?

Mr. Gardiner

Yes, I do not fundamentally disagree with that. Clearly, groups such as Tesco and Safeway own licensed premises that people do not need to step into; they can make telephone or internet purchases of alcohol. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point.

10.15 am

Amendment No. 45 relates to sending a person aged under 18 to obtain intoxicating liquor. It should be considered in conjunction with proposed section 169G, which states: (1) 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. (2) Subsection (1) of this section applies regardless of whether the liquor is to be obtained from the licensed premises or from other premises from which it is delivered in pursuance of the sale. The simple addition of the words "or provision" to subsection (1) would render it doubly safe by ensuring that gifts or exchange—and not just sales—would be covered.

Mr. Heald

As I understand it, the amendment is designed to deal with a situation in which someone sends a child to the licensed premises with a bunch of roses to say, "Give us a Stella Artois." Does that happen very often, in the hon. Gentleman's experience?

Mr. Gardiner

I remind the hon. Gentleman of the anecdote with which I started my speech. In West Kilbride in the early 1960s, my friend Rose would be sent—not with a bunch of roses for Stella Artois—to get two cans of Tennents lager on tick; it was all credit sales based on the assumption that mum would pay later. That is not a sale at the point that the alcohol is handed over.

It is many years since I have been to West Kilbride and I do not know what practice is currently in force there. However, I would be very surprised if informal arrangements did not allow such transactions to be carried out throughout the land. My hon. Friend the Member for Garston clarified the fact that all sorts of transactions take place that do not comply with the existing law, never mind that which is proposed in the Bill.

Amendment No. 53 would add a subsection (4) to clause 3 so that The provisions of this Act shall apply to the House of Commons as if it were licensed premises. I have no doubt that I have come to the most contentious and controversial amendment that I have tabled. I hope that Members of the House will not entertain the idea that I seek in any way to undermine the privileges that they enjoy. However, the fact remains that the House is not subject to the licensing laws of the land. Over centuries, it has had a role in the regulation of alcohol—indeed, the regulation of alcohol is older than Parliament itself. It goes back to the local controls that were linked with the curfew.

Parliament became involved with the regulation of alcohol in the 13th century—more than 700 years ago—to impose controls simply on purity and pi ice. That was the object of Parliament's intervention in those days; there was no question of it being concerned about under-age drinking or anything like that. Parliament sought to control purity and price, and began to consider public order issues, the need to provide for wayfarers and travelling craftsmen, and how to keep the labour force sober and productive. Indeed, I believe that there are Acts that deal with controlling immorality, which was often linked to the sale of alcohol.

I am not suggesting that the sale of alcohol in the precincts of the Houses of Parliament is associated with immorality in any way. None the less, if Parliament seeks to regulate the provision of alcohol to minors throughout the rest of the country, surely it should not envisage a situation in which minors are freely sold alcohol on these premises.

Mr. Fabricant

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has been reading too many Edwina Currie novels, as he is talking about immorality in the House of Commons. I am not getting commission from Edwina Currie for making that remark.

Has the hon. Gentleman seriously considered the constitutional issues raised by his amendment? He will be aware that the Palace of Westminster is a royal palace. Would not his amendment result in this being the first time that civil and criminal legislation has applied to a royal palace? Indeed, he will be aware that people cannot be murdered in a royal palace: they must be removed outside and then be declared dead. Is he not opening a can of worms that could create a constitutional crisis, possibly resulting in—

Mr. Maclean


Mr. Fabricant

My right hon. Friend suggests abdication, but I would not go as far as that. At the time of Her Majesty the Queen Mother's hundredth birthday—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman has gone too far.

Mr. Gardiner

I was speaking about the time when Parliament first became involved in public order issues, and I am glad to see that you have restored order in the Chamber, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As ever, the hon. Member for Lichfield makes an interesting point. He asked whether I had examined the constitutional issues arising from my amendment. Indeed, I have. I refer him to a case heard on 12, 13 and 14 December 1934, which involved the King, Sir R. F. Graham-Campbell and others, and was brought by Mr. Alan Patrick Herbert. On 17 May 1934, the applicant laid two informations at Bow Street police court and made applications for summonses against 15 named Members of Parliament, who were members of the King's Kitchen Committee of the House of Commons.

Of course, the House no longer has a Kitchen Committee. I believe that is now called the House of Commons refreshment Committee—

Mr. Jim Dowd (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)

Catering Committee.

Mr. Gardiner

I am sorry, the Catering Committee.

In one of those informations, the applicant stated that, on 10 April 1934, after listening to Committee proceedings on a certain Bill at the House of Commons, he and a friend visited a refreshment bar at 1.15 pm and were supplied with a glass of lager beer and a glass of gin and mixed vermouth. In the second information, the applicant stated that, at about 6.30 pm on the same day, he visited the House of Commons with another friend. They were proceeding to a refreshment bar when they met a Member of Parliament, who accompanied them there, where they were joined by a fourth person. The Member of Parliament ordered a round of drinks—which is noteworthy in itself—for the four and, even more notably, paid for them.

The chief metropolitan magistrate, Sir Rollo Frederick Graham-Campbell, before whom the applications came, held that, assuming that an offence may have been committed, Members of Parliament carrying out duties entrusted to them by the House, and under its control in a manner long practised and approved by it, and within its precincts, were not amenable to the court's jurisdiction, but were protected by the privileges of the House and were answerable only to the House of which they were Members.

That goes to the heart of the question posed by the hon. Member for Lichfield, in which he asked whether I had considered the constitutional implications of my amendment.

Mr. Maclean

I have not intervened until now because the hon. Gentleman is giving a fascinating exposition of the constitutional question. Indeed, I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) asked about that important matter. I merely wish to tell the hon. Gentleman how pleased I am that his amendment relates to the House of Commons, not the other place, which is the first time that the Labour party has recognised the importance of allowing hereditary peers to continue administering alcohol to young people and their families in a trustworthy way in accordance with centuries-old tradition. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be tempted to extend his amendment to include the whole Palace of Westminster.

Mr. Gardiner

The right hon. Gentleman makes an amusing point. I am sure that, when he takes constituents to the House of Lords, he, like me, points out to them, especially the younger ones, the arm-rest on the Bench of the Lords Spiritual. That arm-rest was provided on the King's instructions because, in earlier days, their Graces partook of alcohol quite frequently, especially at lunchtime, and would fall off the end of the Bench during afternoon debates. That is the only Bench in the House of Lords to have an arm-rest.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman was not suggesting that, as all the Benches in this Chamber have arm-rests, the purpose was the same in this House.

I return to the constitutional implications that my amendment would have in seeking to regulate the provision of alcohol in the House of Commons. It is clear that the sale of liquor in the precincts of the House falls within the House's internal affairs, which it, and it alone, is privileged to manage. The privileges of the House of Commons have never been defined and must be ascertained from what has been recorded as having been done by the House. According to Blackstone, one of the greatest authorities on our constitution, the privileges of Parliament are large and indefinite, and courts of law cannot determine the privileges of the High Court of Parliament. Blackstone's commentary, volume i, page 164, states that the privileges are well-known … to the two Houses, and to every member of them, as long as he continues a member; but the knowledge is as incommunicable as the privileges to all beyond that pale.

Maria Eagle

It is perfectly proper that the House guards its privileges and it must do so for the future of democracy to be kept safe. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] None the less, there are some exceptions to that. It is possible, for example, to be arrested here if one is to be charged with a criminal offence. The privileges of the House do not extend to that. Is not my hon. Friend's amendment about considering whether licensing laws are sufficiently serious to overrule the privileges of the House? Is that not the nub of his argument?

10.30 am
Mr. Gardiner

No, I must disagree with my hon. Friend. I accept willingly that a person committing an ordinary felony or misdemeanour, even on the very steps of the Speaker's Chair, would not be protected by the privileges of the House and would be amenable to the jurisdiction of criminal courts. That, however, is merely because the House has never claimed the right to adjudicate on such matters.

In Stockdale v. Hansard, Lord Denman stated: The House sits for long periods and arrangements have to be made for heating the House when the weather is cold and the provision of refreshment for the mind in the library and the refreshment for the body in suitable places. The regulation of those matters is clearly within the area of the internal affairs of the House and connected with the affairs of the House. That is why Members' privileges relate to areas that have always been deemed to fall within the regular, traditional course and patterns of events in this place. We have never claimed that Members' privileges should extend to the sorts of ordinary criminal offence to which my hon. Friend referred.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman is in danger of unintentionally misleading the House. As I understand it, the Metropolitan police have powers in the House of Commons only by virtue of the fact that we have given them such powers. The Serjeant at Arms has supreme power over control of order in the House of Commons.

Mr. Gardiner

I accept that, but I seek to focus our debate more particularly on the purpose of the amendment.

Although there are more proper points to be considered on how the amendment would affect the rights and privileges of hon. Members, I cannot in all conscience believe that hon. Members are so fastidious in guarding their privileges that they would not wish to apply the provisions of this estimable Bill to the House of Commons, as if it were licensed premises, in the sale, provision, supply and delivery of alcohol to those under the age of 18. That would mean that the law that we seek to impose throughout the country to protect minors from the dangers of alcohol would not be enforced in the confines of Parliament.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman has been most courteous in taking interventions. One concern that I have about his amendment is how it would affect situations in which we are asked by charitable organisations in our constituencies—and other organisations not so charitable, such as party bodies—to provide a bottle of intoxicating liquor for a raffle or tombola prize. If in those circumstances a Member of Parliament supplied a bottle of House of Commons whisky and the winning ticket was bought by a minor, would there not be a danger of the Member falling foul of proposed new section 169F—delivery of intoxicating liquor to a person under 18—of the licensing Act 1964? I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman may not be able to respond to that, but I hope that, before his winding-up speech, the Minister will have a full briefing on that point from those who are specially qualified to give him that information.

Mr. Gardiner

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that point. As someone who has presided over bottle stalls on numerous occasions and over raffles on even more numerous occasions, I can only tell him of my habitual practice, which I recommend to him. I automatically tell any minor holding a winning ticket, "You will have to go to get your mother, father or another responsible adult because I will not give a bottle of alcohol to a minor." I hold to that whether I am on a bottle stall at the local school fete or involved in a raffle for which alcohol is one of the possible prizes. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to follow that practice because, in his position, it is best not to be seen to be dishing out alcopops or any other form of alcohol to young people. It is as simple as that.

I do not wish to detain the House much longer; I know that many hon. Members want to speak.

Mr. Heald

During the hon. Gentleman's reminiscences about bottle stalls, it occurred to me that his amendments on other methods of provision, apart from sale, might affect raffles. The reason why a raffle does not require a licence is that it does not involve a sale. If other methods of obtaining were included in the law, would not raffles be covered?

Mr. Gardiner

Let me think carefully about that. We are talking about licensed premises.

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Gardiner

I shall respond to the intervention of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), then happily give way to my hon. Friend.

If I expanded the scope of the hon. Gentleman's example to a raffle on licensed premises, there would be force to his point that such a raffle might fall under the Bill's provisions. However, my understanding is that a raffle not held on licensed premises would not be covered by the Bill.

Mr. Brown

On the issue of raffles and the purchasing of raffle tickets, I am sure that each and every one of us in this House has at some stage purchased a raffle ticket for our children or even grandchildren. I am sure that none of us has passed alcohol to our child or grandchild if we have been fortunate enough to see their ticket drawn. As responsible adults, we purchase such tickets in good faith, but would never intend to pass on the winning prize, should it be alcohol, to any of our children aged under 18.

Mr. Gardiner

Absolutely; I concur with my hon. Friend. It has cost me quite dear on occasions to purchase, as it were, from my child the right to do him out of what he saw as his raffle prize. When my children have won a bottle of spirits or other alcohol in a raffle, I have bartered with them, as I said earlier. I say, "I will buy you a packet of Pokemon cards but you can't have the bottle." It is all a matter of negotiation with one's children, and I am afraid that, over the years, my children have become extremely adept in such matters. I take my hon. Friend's point; of course he is right. No responsible parent would allow their child simply to take a bottle of alcohol as a raffle prize and retain it at their own free disposal. It simply is not the action of a responsible parent.

The amendments are positive and helpful. They are designed, not to detract in any way from the Bill, but to strengthen it and reinforce its provisions. They would help to create an environment in this country in which young people were not exposed unduly to the dangers of alcohol, or to the circumstances that gave rise to the case that prompted my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey to introduce the Bill. We want no more tragedies associated with under-age drinking to occur.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There are several amendments in the group; they are printed on the appropriate document, which is available to hon. Members.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

On re-reading the Bill's long title, it occurs to me that it offers an intriguing possibility, which, at this stage, I mention only in passing, to allow the Minister and the Bill's promoter to reflect on it. It states that the Bill would Make provision in connection with the sale and consumption of intoxicating liquor in cases— note those words— involving persons under eighteen; and for connected purposes. My question for the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) is whether that excludes the sale of individual bottles. We can return to that issue later—

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey)


Mr. Forth

Oh, it appears that I am to have an immediate answer.

Mr. Truswell

Rather than protract the debate, let me say that the answer to that question is no.

Mr. Forth

The promoter might say that, but further advice might be required. It is as well that I did not spot the provision earlier, because it might have given rise to some interesting amendments.

The hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) has given the House not only a tour de force, but an informative speech that has highlighted some of the potential difficulties inherent in the Bill, which others of us have also spotted. To ensure that the Bill fully achieves its purpose—let there be no doubt that that is the reason why we are all here today—we must satisfy ourselves that it neither goes too far, nor falls short of that purpose.

The Bill would operate in a surprisingly complex area. The first complexity, which I and others have spotted, is the use in proposed new section 169A of the phrase "in licensed premises". That raises several questions, which the hon. Gentleman touched on, connected with the relationship between those making the purchase, those making the sale and the way in which the transaction is carried out. Even though the Bill uses the words "in licensed premises", the long title extends it far more broadly. In the references to car boot sales and raffles, we begin to see the potential difficulties arising from the bewildering variety of ways in which items, whether intoxicating liquor or any other goods, can pass from one person to another.

In simpler days, in West Kilbride and elsewhere, we all thought that we well understood the direct nature of sale and purchase. I am an old man whose memory stretches back even further than the hon. Gentleman's, and I can remember the days long before credit cards, when all sales were cash sales—unless, as he rather ingeniously points out, they were achieved through some sort of informal credit arrangement, or, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) has helpfully pointed out, through some sort of barter.

10.45 am

We might want to return to the issue, but, in passing, it is worth saying that we realise that, for the Bill to function fully and properly, it must cover all the bewildering variety of means of transaction available for the sale and purchase of intoxicating liquor. That is the intention behind some of the amendments standing in my name, which would add the words "or through" after the word "in". They would help to broaden the scope of the Bill properly to encompass all the different sorts of transaction.

We can well imagine the many different ways in which transactions can take place. There is the conventional way, through the use of cash, occurring in licensed premises, which is the most basic, straightforward and simple method of transaction and the one that probably springs to mind first. I suspect that, when he was framing the Bill, the hon. Member for Pudsey envisaged a person walking into licensed premises, ordering intoxicating liquor, handing over some cash and then leaving with the cans or bottles in his possession. It is relatively easy to frame provisions to deal with such transactions.

However, broadening our notion of modes of transaction makes the issue more complicated. The ordering process can be carried out over the telephone, or by fax—I would imagine that many licensed premises now have fax facilities, and people generally have such machines in their workplace and increasingly in their home—or via one of those ghastly e-things that I keep hearing about.

Mr. Gardiner


Mr. Forth

No, certainly not, although I am grateful for the pun.

I do not want to dwell on such issues at this stage, as I suspect that my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) or my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), both of whom are expert in these matters, might wish to elaborate, should they catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I hope that they will. I merely introduce the subject. However, even with my almost zero knowledge of such matters, I am aware that commercial transactions can now be effected through the use of e-things. I presume, therefore, that it is possible to order intoxicating liquor e-wise. Given that the ordering process is possible via voice telephony, fax—I managed to operate the fax machine in my office for the first time this morning, which engenders a feeling of triumph—or some sort of e-facility, we have to broaden our conceptualisation of the Bill and its purpose to encompass the modes of transaction that are now widely available to people under 18.

Related to that is the fact that transmission of the product—in this case, intoxicating liquor—from the person who makes the sale to the purchaser now occurs to a lesser extent on licensed premises. Increasingly, the product is delivered, or it is distributed by the less than legal means mentioned by the hon. Member for Brent, North, or is passed on through barter. I am not sure whether barter is illegal; perhaps the hon. Member for Garston can advise us. I see that she has a sheaf of papers in her hand and I am aware of her enormous legal expertise. Given that it was she who raised the issue of barter, it is possible that she can advise us as to its legality in the context of the Bill, if not otherwise.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady will be able to advise the House if and when she catches my eye. However, I should like the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) to mention the amendments that are the subject of this debate. He appears to be making a more general speech, and I am sure that he does not want to do that.

Mr. Forth

Certainly, it was far from my mind to make a general speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise for not making it clear that I was speaking in the context of amendments Nos. 19, 25, 30, 44 and 45, all of which touch on possible methods of payment and whether or not transactions take place on licensed premises. These matters are, I believe, germane.

I mentioned barter. That emphasises the fact that, faced as we are with such a bewildering array of methods of purchase, we must ensure that the Bill encompasses all those and deals satisfactorily with them.

The same applies to amendments Nos. 26 and 27. We must be satisfied that the more complicated relationships that can now exist between the licensee, the licensee's employees or agents of the licensee, and the person making the purchase are all adequately covered.

When the promoter of the Bill sums up the debate on this group of amendments—I hope that the Minister will be able to guide the House as well—we will require from him reassurance that all the matters raised by the hon. Member for Brent, North, which I am trying to reinforce and, in some cases, to amplify, will be covered by the Bill in its present form, or by amendments to strengthen the effect of the Bill.

That is the point of the Report stage, and those are the matters that must be dealt with. We must satisfy ourselves that all the conceivable and likely circumstances that may arise with regard to purchase, whether through an agent or an employee or through the licensee himself or herself, will be adequately covered by the Bill.

Amendment No. 59 touches on a different matter, which rather worries me. In the Bill, the word "bar" is used. For example, proposed new section 169E states: A person under eighteen shall be guilty of an offence if, in a bar in licensed premises, he consumes intoxicating liquor. Unless I am told later that that is some term of art of which I have hitherto been unaware, my concern is that the use of the word "bar" is far too restrictive. Traditionally, we have been used to terms such as cocktail bar, public bar or lounge bar, although those are rapidly going out of fashion. They were the terms that I was used to when I was introduced to drinking alcohol.

We have gone far beyond that. The sorts of premises on which intoxicating liquor is now sold vary enormously from the traditional concepts that I have just mentioned, and include, as the hon. Member for Brent, North said, pub gardens, which are becoming increasingly popular, to say nothing of theme pubs, where the point of the exercise and the attraction of the premises is that they are much more varied. Theme pubs may contain many more different rooms, styles and areas in which the consumption of intoxicating liquor can take place.

The worry is that the use of the term "bar" may turn out to be overly restrictive. There is at least the possibility that loopholes could arise in cases where the physical premises were not properly covered by the terms of the Bill.

That is even more the case in the light of the Government's excellent proposals—as I told the Home Secretary when he introduced them a few weeks ago—to liberalise in a responsible and sensible way the licensing of intoxicating liquor. I praised the proposals at the time; I am not sure that the Home Secretary was pleased about that, but he was gracious, as ever he is.

However, we must pause and reflect. To the extent that we may sensibly and responsibly liberalise the consumption of intoxicating liquor, we must make sure that the terms of the Bill will cover the possibilities that may arise in the fairly near future, as I understood it from the Home Secretary. We will be guided by the Minister. In the context of what the Home Secretary has recommended and the consultative manner in which he did so, it is incumbent on us to ensure that the Bill will be able to deal with the changes that may well occur in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Paice

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I endorse his comments on the use of the word "bar", which occurs in at least two subsections. From those, it seems that the opportunity for consumption in a part of a pub or licensed premises without a bar would get round the legislation. I do not understand why the word appears at all. If the wording had been "consumption in licensed premises" or "within the curtilage" of such premises, to cover pub gardens, it would have been a much clearer description. I wonder whether the word "bar" is defined in law, anyway.

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend reinforces my anxiety. Any of his suggestions would probably be an improvement. I tried rather inelegantly to get round the problem by adding "or similar facility", which I thought would cover all the eventualities, but the unnecessary use of the word "bar" may be unduly restrictive, unless we are told that "bar" is a legal term of art whose coverage is much wider than I thought.

Maria Eagle


Mr. Forth

I may be about to get some legal advice.

Maria Eagle

I do not propose to offer legal advice, not least because I am no longer insured to do so. I do not recall whether I ever came across a definition in law of "bar", but I suspect not. However, it has a common meaning, which the law would pick up immediately. To me, it means the place from where the beer is sold and from which the barman or bar staff serve it. Other rooms would not count as being the bar. Can the right hon. Gentleman clarify the wording that he proposes—"or similar facility"? Does he mean other rooms within the curtilage, or the garden as well? What is his definition of "or similar facility"?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I had in mind the place where the intoxicating liquor was dispensed. On reflection, I may not have achieved my purpose. The hon. Lady has been helpful. Perhaps I had a mental block and thought of "bar" in the traditional sense of cocktail bar, public bar and lounge bar. The legal definition may be anything over which the liquor is passed in the course of making a sale or a purchase. A trestle table might do—for example, in a pub garden.

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who, in his rigorous style, has come across—I was going to say "stumbled across", but that would be unfair—a possible lacuna. We are dealing with a 1964 Act, which in the section under discussion envisages only two systems for selling alcohol—licensed premises, which would be the off-licences, and bars, as they existed in 1964.

My right hon. Friend's terminology "or similar facility" is too tightly related to the old-fashioned concept of a bar. We may need a wider form of words, which would allow for theme park situations, where there may not be a trestle table, a bar or a counter, and people may be served alcohol in odd locations. The alcohol may all come from a kitchen or a bar pantry, and there may be no bar or counter as such. My right hon. Friend is on to a valid point, but his amendment is still too tight.

Mr. Forth

The more I think about the matter as the debate proceeds, the more I am inclined to plead guilty to what my right hon. Friend has just said. My amendment is defective. I can envisage circumstances in which, say, on a hot day, someone was serving drinks out of a large refrigerator direct to the public for payment of cash. There might be nothing remotely like a bar or trestle table in sight, but the serving and the transaction would still take place.

Maria Eagle

In some premises, which have been described in newspapers in the past year, one can serve oneself because there is a tap on every table. Where is the bar in those circumstances?

11 am

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you received a request from the Government to make a statement on the worsening crisis in Sierra Leone? We learned through the media yesterday and this morning that the Government have shifted their position and extended the mandate for British troops to stay in Sierra Leone by four weeks beyond the original task. Conservative Members—I hope all hon. Members—are worried about the families of those serving in Sierra Leone. They need much greater clarification.

There seems to be confusion between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. It has been suggested that there might be a commitment for as far ahead as 2001. The Government owe it to the House to clarify the position. What is the mission statement? What are our troops expected to do? The Government should explain that as quickly as possible because the families of those serving will be worried until that moment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point of order. It is not a matter for the Chair, but I am sure that the appropriate Ministers have heard the hon. Gentleman's comments.

Mr. Forth

Again, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Garston for her intervention. The more we consider clause 1, the more we need solid reassurance from the promoter, or the Minister, that he is satisfied that it is both as tight and as wide ranging as it should be. Section 169 of the Licensing Act 1964, to which the clause applies, provides that previous sections do not apply when the sale, purchase or consumption of alcohol takes place at a meal in the part of the licensed premises that is not a bar and is usually set aside for the service of meals. In a roundabout way, that gives a hint of the variety of ways in which intoxicating liquor can properly be purchased and consumed.

Mr. O'Brien

It may help the right hon. Gentleman if I explain that a bar is an area designated by the licensing justices in granting the licence. It is therefore specified in the licence.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to the Minister. On the face of it, his comment appears to set the matter at rest. I shall not therefore explore it further.

Mr. Heald

The hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) explained about the training of children to drink alcohol sensibly by buying drinks and giving them to children in small quantities in pub gardens. Would not my right hon. Friend's amendment make that impossible? Specifying any facilities in licensed premises would make it an offence for a child under 18 to consume the alcohol that had been bought on the premises in a pub garden.

Mr. Forth

The more I consider the matter, the more that I realise that I shall probably not want to press my amendment. I shall not make a final decision until I hear the Minister's comments. However, in view of my hon. Friend's point, I have probably missed the target by a wide mark.

Mr. Gardiner

I want to correct the impression that I had said that part of the education of young children about responsible drinking would take place in pub gardens. I used the example of the pub garden on a separate point. There should be a proper role in the home for parents to give children under the age of 18 the chance to acquire a taste for alcohol responsibly. I was happy for that to happen in the home, but less happy about its occurrence in pub gardens.

Mr. Forth

I am grateful for that clarification.

Mr. Fabricant

My right hon. Friend shares my interest in our relations with the United States. Does he believe that the Minister's definition of bar is adequate? Perhaps my right hon. Friend has visited Ye Olde King's Head in Santa Monica, California. I was a student there—at the university of Southern California, not Ye Olde King's Head. However, I spent some time at Ye Olde King's Head. Although it had a bar, most Americans tended not to sit at the bar because there were also tables there. Strangely enough—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should remember that he is making an intervention. I call Mr. Forth.

Mr. Forth

I am sure that, if my hon. Friend catches your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will be able to weave those comments into his speech. However, I am grateful to him, because his intervention reinforces my point and shows the Minister that, despite his helpful intervention, he will perhaps want to set our minds totally at rest when he winds up.

I want briefly to consider amendment No. 53. Despite the marvellous, succinct history lesson given to us by the hon. Member for Brent, North, I was not entirely satisfied with his explanation for wanting to change the status of the House of Commons. My hon. Friends and I were puzzled that the amendment applied only to the House of Commons, not to the Palace of Westminster; it would be anomalous for it to apply only to this end of the Palace. It is possible to deal with the Palace from this end, and for their lordships to consider the matter when the Bill goes to another place, as it will shortly.

Even if we accepted the aims of amendment No. 53, I am not satisfied that it makes sense to restrict them to the Commons end of the Palace.

Mr. Fabricant

Surely my right hon. Friend does not support this potential constitutional outrage? It would be bad enough to perpetrate it on the House of Commons without extending it to the House of Lords.

Mr. Forth

I certainly do not support it. I am simply making my preliminary observations. I had not begun to describe my feeling about the thrust of the amendment and was making the point almost in passing. I am surprised that my hon. Friend is not able distinguish between my passing and substantive comments. However, my point was valid and the hon. Member for Brent, North implied that he agreed. If we want to accept amendment No. 53, it would be better to apply it to the Palace of Westminster rather than the House of Commons. However, I do not want to accept it.

Mr. Gardiner

I appreciate that the rights and privileges of hon. Members are a sensitive issue, and an amendment that applies only to the House of Commons can be properly debated by its Members. The House of Lords will be able to table amendments in due course and introduce a similar provision for the other place.

Mr. Forth

I give the hon. Gentleman some friendly advice. I would not want to suggest amendments to be made in another place at this stage of the legislative year, for reasons that he will doubtless understand on reflection. If we want to amend the Bill, we should do it properly here, so that it requires no amendment in another place. I am sure that the promoter understands that. The amendment is therefore defective.

My genuine objection to the amendment arises from the remarks of the hon. Member for Brent, North. He said that we should treat the House of Commons, or the Palace of Westminster, like any other premises for the purpose of the Bill. I disagree. This is a special place in many ways, not only because it is a royal palace, which grants it different status. I was worried by the implication that it is almost as easy for someone under 18 to be tempted to, or manage to, purchase intoxicating liquor on these premises as it is anywhere else. I hope that that is not the case.

I would add in passing that it has long been my view that we perhaps encourage too many very young people to visit the House. Although I am keen to encourage young people of a proper age to come to the Palace of Westminster and learn what we do here, some excessively young people cannot possibly understand what is going on. Given that, I should have thought that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for a young person to buy liquor in the House. If that is easy, we should consider our procedures rather than legislate in the way in which the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Maria Eagle

The right hon. Gentleman is as courteous as ever in giving way to me again. If we expect the rest of the country to understand, and comply with, the law, is it not important that we are seen to do so ourselves? Is not the problem public acceptance of the Bill, given that the licensing laws are not applicable here and this place is subject to the sensitivities of parliamentary privilege? The public may think that we have made an exception for ourselves. Is that not the nub of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner)?

Mr. Forth

That is a respectable argument, but I do not accept it. I know that the hon. Lady is not trying to be devious in any way, nor even trying to be seductive in the way in which she puts the argument, but in my wilder moments I might think that she was trying to introduce the thin end of a wedge with which we have become familiar recently: why should we not have the same working conditions, working hours and so on as people elsewhere? My answer is that the House is not a factory or an office; it is a legislature. It is legitimate to discuss the fact that we do things differently and, some might think, rather eccentrically here, but I am not yet persuaded that we should necessarily make what we do, how we do it and the environment in which we do it the same as in an office or factory. I am always prepared to say, "Yes, of necessity, we do things differently here," because legislating is an unusual process. This morning's proceedings illustrate that all too well. The environment in which we legislate is, of necessity, often very different.

I do not accept the suggestion of the hon. Members for Brent, North and for Garston that we should always be role models for people outside. I accept that there is a place for role models, but it is often over-emphasised. If one considers the idolatry heaped on people as eccentric as footballers or pop singers, considerable difficulties arise. I suspect that few people try to emulate Members of Parliament. Offhand, I cannot think of anyone who, in his right mind, would do so in any circumstances. I am not too worried about people considering what we do here and saying, "Let's have some of that." I suspect that that is a minuscule, almost infinitesimally small risk to run. I do not want to flog this to death, but, although I understand the motivation of the hon. Member for Pudsey, I do not agree with him. For the reasons that I have given, the amendment is defective.

The thrust of my speech is that, although it is accepted that the House very much wants to support the Bill and to give it a fair wind, it is our responsibility to ensure, as far as possible, that it covers all eventualities, that it is fit for its purpose, that it will do what we all want it to do—no more, no less—and that we can spot no loopholes in it. That is the purpose of my amendments and my few remarks. I hope that the Bill's promoter and the Minister can guide the House to a conclusion about which we feel happy so that we can pass it on to its next stage.

11.15 am
Mr. Truswell

I am exhausted with respect for the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner). If he would like to join me in proposing a Bill to license and regulate Pokemon card sales, I would welcome his assistance. As always, the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made an admirable, perceptive and incisive contribution.

I need not remind the House that I have lobbied for two and a half years to close the loophole that the Bill primarily addresses. Everyone will be aware of the tragic death of David Knowles, which gave rise to the Bill, so I shall not rehearse those details or circumstances today. However, I was somewhat perturbed that the Library had catalogued its briefing on my Bill under the heading "Sport and Leisure". I asked myself, "Whose sport and whose leisure?" However, given the number of amendments tabled, I suspect that the Library staff were blessed with paranormal foresight, because my Bill is clearly giving Members good sport. I do not use the word "sport" in any demeaning or pejorative sense, because all the issues that have been raised today are of the utmost seriousness.

Faced with the amendments, I feel like the holder of the parliamentary equivalent of the fairground dodgem concession. I have some ownership of the structure and its contents, but now find that hon. Members are understandably and legitimately piling in and driving around in host of directions. No doubt they will bump into each other occasionally. That is their prerogative, but I hope that they will not bump too heavily into me or my Bill.

Hon. Members will know that, from the outset, my aim was simple and straightforward: to close the loophole in the Licensing Act 1964 highlighted by the tragic death of 14-year-old David Knowles, my constituent. I need not rehearse the circumstances in greater detail because all hon. Members will be aware of them. In securing the assistance of the House in closing that loophole, I shall fulfil my pledge to David's parents to do all I can to secure that objective. The Bill, as amended in Committee, will achieve it fully and comprehensively.

I stress that the amendments are not necessary to improve the Bill, which has a narrow remit. I entirely take on board all the comments that have been made, especially by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst. I would never be so arrogant as to suggest that many of the matters that have been or are due to be discussed are not important or valid in a much wider consideration of licensing law. They most certainly are. I find myself to be the parliamentary India rubber man; I completely agree and sympathise with many of the amendments, but cannot support them for the reasons that I have given. I have always wanted the Bill to be as targeted and precise as possible.

I was tempted to include other measures, many of which are the subject of amendments. The licensing laws are generally thought to be outdated and, as we know from the White Paper, they are in need of major overhaul. I succumbed only once to that temptation, to include a measure—which, I believe, the House supported unanimously—to outlaw proxy purchasing. However, I remain conscious of the need to avoid over-stretching my ambitions and over-balancing into the oblivion of that dark pit filled with the remnants of so many private Members' Bills.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst might be interested to know that I had a vision—perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a nightmare—of the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) standing in that metaphorical charnel house of perished private Members' Bills, holding a decaying copy of my Bill and uttering the words, "Alas poor Pudsey, we knew him, Bromley. He must have been a man of infinite jest to think that he could get away with this lot." I must apologise for referring to the right hon. Gentleman when he is not in the Chamber. That terrible vision has guided my every step in this matter, and it is why I have tried to be specific and have concentrated on closing the loophole.

The Second Reading and Committee stage of the Bill were admirably summed up by the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell). He said that we were all hon. Friends with regard to the Bill, and I hope that that still obtains. However, some of the amendments in this and other groups would clearly break that unanimity.

My Bill was intended to repair anomalies in the 1964 Act. It is not intended to build a brand new production line model, tempting though that objective may be. That is a broader and more comprehensive task than can be discharged by my humble private Member's Bill. Right hon. and hon. Members will raise matters that should, and I hope will, be taken into account by the Minister in the comprehensive review of licensing legislation outlined in the recent White Paper.

Nevertheless, a number of issues have been raised that I hope the Minister will want to discuss with me if we have the opportunity, with the possibility of enshrining them in the Bill if that is possible within the narrow confines that I have described and that I have been working to.

As I said on Second Reading and in Committee, I am pleased that my Bill has fulfilled this further purpose of promoting much broader debate. It has prompted a broader discussion on a much wider range of very important issues. Most of the amendments, if not all, are intended to signal to the Minister the feelings of the House on those broader issues. I know that he will be mindful of many of them, and will no doubt treat each of them with the seriousness that they deserve, and will respond accordingly. I shall not attempt to steal his thunder.

It is an added benefit that my Bill has acted as a catalyst for such a wide-ranging debate. It is fair to say that it is a dress rehearsal for a much more comprehensive series of debates that I hope will take place in the near future. Those debates will be based on the issues raised by the White Paper and subsequent proposals for legislation.

In conclusion, although I am pleased that my Bill has acted as a catalyst, I remind the House that a catalyst is an agent that, while promoting a reaction—a beneficial reaction it is hoped—remains unchanged itself. I hope that the outcome of today's debate will be that my Bill will stand as amended in Committee, and that Members will understand the reason why I am arguing that particular line.

Mr. Fabricant

Like many other hon. Members, I give the Bill my general support. Under-age drinking continues to be a problem in the United Kingdom, and it is important that we try to close the loopholes that enable it to happen. I praise the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) for promoting the Bill, and also the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner), who has tabled some worthwhile amendments. I do not know whether the amendments will be pressed to a vote, but they warrant the House's consideration. They would improve the Bill and would close the loopholes that the Bill is designed to close.

I shall address in particular the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Brent, North. Amendments Nos. 30 and 32 concern the buying or obtaining of alcohol. The hon. Gentleman rightly argued that there are alternative ways to obtain alcohol that may not involve the passing of money across a bar. Alcohol may be bought on credit—on tick, to use his words. Drinks may be put on the slate.

The hon. Gentleman gave the example of the cartoon strip character Andy Capp, which I think is still published in The Mirror. I invite Labour Members, who probably read The Mirror more often than I do, to correct me if I am wrong. I gather from their silence that I am not wrong. Incidentally, it is interesting to note that Andy Capp is syndicated throughout the United States. What they make of the character I do not know.

People can obtain alcohol by various means other than simple purchase. Without amendments Nos. 30 and 32, that dangerous loophole would continue to enable young people to obtain alcohol. I invite the Minister to explain his position on that.

Amendment No. 39 concerns the delivery of alcohol, and is of particular interest. My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) raised the issue of internet sales. There are also telephone sales, as a result of which someone may make a delivery to a home and find that they are delivering to a younger person. Waitrose.com operated such a service when the John Lewis Partnership acquired Findlater Mackie Todd. No one would accuse a company as respected as John Lewis of being anything other than a highly responsible organisation. Should we put such a burden on delivery drivers working for John Lewis that they may break the law if they deliver alcohol to a home and unwittingly give it to someone under the age of 18?

I do not have to remind the House that, nowadays, younger people tend to look older.

Mr. Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fabricant

In a moment.

It is depressing that when I am occasionally invited to give prizes at a school speech day, the 18-year-olds to whom I am giving the prizes seem considerably taller and much more mature than I.

I shall now give way to the hon. Lady. [Interruption.] I shall first give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border.

Mr. Maclean

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, as I suspect that the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) and I want to make the same point. Deliveries to someone's residence or working place would not be in breach of the law, and we need to explore that matter later. My concern is about the charity event, the function or the political do. People may be setting things up and someone arrives to deliver the drink for that event. A 16 or 17-year-old working there may take charge of the delivery and assist in setting up the bar. That would not be covered by the provision in new section 169F(4).

Mr. Fabricant

My right hon. Friend is right. Under proposed new section 169F(4), if the delivery is made at the residence or working place of the purchaser subsections (1) and (2) do not apply. Is that in itself a loophole? Would that allow younger people legally to order alcohol so that delivery is made to the home? Does that issue need to be addressed?

Ms Keeble

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that to hold the difficulties of e-commerce against such a Bill as this is unrealistic, as everyone knows that e-commerce is fraught with all kinds of regulatory problems?

11.30 am
Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point in relation to the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who has referred to the e-word and will not bring himself to say e-mail. Huge problems will arise from the growth in e-commerce, not least in terms of the collection of indirect revenues by Customs and Excise. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) chooses to buy his compact discs from Tower Records in New York off the internet. One wonders whether the VAT is paid when the goods are delivered to the UK.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That has nothing to do with the amendments before us.

Mr. Fabricant

I am not so sure about that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Give the Deputy Speaker the benefit of the doubt.

Mr. Fabricant

I always give you the benefit of the doubt, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) is right to say that nothing we try to do in limiting the powers of the Bill should impact on e-commerce. Nevertheless, we must recognise that more and more purchases are likely to be made from home, rather than at retail premises.

I welcome the fact that the Bill includes a proposal concerning deliveries made at a residence or working place of the purchaser. However, that in itself could be a loophole. What if a young person at his place of work were to place an order for alcohol to be delivered to his place of work or home? Would that still be legal because of the proposal?

Amendment No. 59, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, concerns the legal definition of "bar". I accept the Minister's advice on this, but I remain concerned that the definition might be restrictive in terms of where alcohol should be sold. It was right for my right hon. Friend to table the amendment to include the words "or similar facility" to broaden the definition.

We have heard about beer gardens, theme pubs and so on. I wish to refer to the different ways in which drink is served nowadays in pubs. When I was doing a doctorate at the university of Southern California 20 years ago—

Mr. Gardiner

More than that!

Mr. Fabricant

I fear that the hon. Gentleman's arithmetic may be more accurate than mine. While I was studying for my degree in southern California, I spent some private study time in Ye Olde King's Head in Santa Monica. I was relieved to find last year that that bar is still running. Often, trends in the United States are copied here in the UK. It was not like a pub that one would find in the UK and it was built in 1953. I was not around in 1953.

Mr. Heald

Oh yes you were.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend is right, but I was not drinking beer in Ye Olde King's Head in Santa Monica. The point is that, more often nowadays, drinks are served at the table and not at the bar. If so, despite the assurances given by the Minister this morning, I wonder whether there is a major loophole in the Bill—a Bill we all want to succeed.

Maria Eagle

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Fabricant

I will give way to the hon. Lady, who is a respected lawyer not only in Liverpool, but throughout this House.

Maria Eagle

I was not aware that my fame had spread beyond Liverpool in that respect. I do not pretend to be a lawyer any more, as I am no longer insured and I no longer give legal advice. I ask the hon. Gentleman the same question that I asked the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). Would he attempt to define "similar facility" so that we can better understand precisely how the phrase extends the definition of a bar? I am not certain that it does.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Lady says that she is not a lawyer, but the perception shown in her question demonstrates that she still is. She makes an interesting point, and we can only go by common sense. "Similar facility" means a facility that is similar to that which has been described as a bar. If we define a bar as a place of serving, then a "similar facility" is inadequate. If we say that a "similar facility" is a facility at which alcohol can be served, that is adequate. [Interruption.] I should go into more detail, as the House seems confused. There are facilities at a bar, including pumps and optics. A table is the recipient place for alcohol, and there is no mechanism for producing drink.

Maria Eagle

There has been publicity in the past year about a pub with pumps at each table, and the newspapers wondered whether this promoted too much drinking. Does not that destroy the distinction that the hon. Gentleman has just made?

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Lady is right on the point of law, but it seems unlikely that such places will spread. It would seem that a great deal of trust would be involved if one could put coins on the table and get as much alcohol as one liked—unless people are more trustworthy than I give them credit for.

Mr. Gardiner

The licensing law reform panel, of which I was a member, visited a pub in Denmark that had barrels at the end of each table. It was an extremely popular facility and one that the proprietors had franchised and were hoping to propagate throughout Europe. It is possible to gauge the amount of flow, as one does with a petrol pump, and charge accordingly.

Mr. Fabricant

That is an interesting point. One wonders how the drink is paid for. If one puts coins in a slot, one is purchasing at that point, and—this is directly relevant to the amendments, in case you were thinking of ruling me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker—if one can swipe a card, as at a petrol station, that is credit, which is one of the forms of payment dealt with in some of the amendments.

In any case, such facilities are a worrying development, both because they may encourage people to drink more and because they widen the definition of "bar", which is an issue that we must address before enacting the Bill.

Now we come to the very vexed question of amendment No. 53, which is designed to extend the legislation to the House of Commons. I fully accept that codes of behaviour that we seek to impose on others ought to be followed by ourselves. We do not want to be hypocrites. Indeed, I believe that the word "hypocrite" applied to another Member of Parliament would be unparliamentary language. We should not legislate and then, in principle, break the laws that we have created. However, I worry when small but important pieces of legislation erode the privilege that has existed for hundreds of years in this place.

This is not only a legislature: it is a royal palace. If we are to include the House of Commons and the other place, as the hon. Member for Brent, North has suggested, should not we include all royal palaces? Perhaps he will intervene to say whether we should do that to set an example.

Mr. Gardiner

I can never resist the temptation to intervene on the hon. Gentleman, especially when he offers so courteously.

There is a principle involved. If we want respect for the laws that we pass, we must be seen to abide by them ourselves. There is no good reason why any institution should be exempt simply by virtue of its being a royal palace.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman makes his arguments powerfully. I am suggesting not that individuals in the House of Commons break the rules, but that the rules may not necessarily apply or be enforced here. I would not want any Member of Parliament to commit a crime outside or inside this place, even though it may not be defined as a crime inside. It behoves us all to set a good example, but whether the example should be set by virtue of its being demanded in the Bill is a moot point. If Members of Parliament choose to behave honourably, as we would expect others outside the House to behave, not because it is demanded by an Act of Parliament but because we want to set an example, surely that is even better.

11.45 am
Maria Eagle

The hon. Gentleman came perilously close to suggesting that parliamentary privilege extends to criminal activities. Our privilege allows us to speak freely, which is a fundamental tenet of our democracy, but does he accept that it does not extend to allowing us to commit crimes?

Mr. Fabricant

That is an interesting point of law, to which I do not know the answer. The Minister is looking especially blank at the moment, so I suspect that he may not know the answer either, although he may perhaps find it out before he winds up the debate.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

I do know the answer, but I was enjoying watching the hon. Gentleman squirm a little.

Mr. Fabricant

I wonder whether I might invite the Minister to elucidate, because the answer is directly relevant to whether we would want to support amendment No. 53.

Mr. O'Brien

We are covered by the criminal law. We are privileged in respect of what we say, and not so much in respect of what we do. If the hon. Gentleman were to commit a crime here, I am afraid that he could be prosecuted—although I am sure that he would not do such a thing.

Mr. Fabricant

That is helpful and suggests that my concerns about amendment No. 53 may be unfounded—it may not create a precedent. However, I rather suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) may want to make a counter-point.

Mr. Heald

Page 74 of "Erskine May" says that there was a resolution in 1626 that the privilege of this House is that no peer of Parliament— which apparently includes us— sitting the Parliament, is to be imprisoned or restrained without sentence or order of the House, unless it be for treason or felony, or for refusing to give surety of the peace. That was apparently extended later to cover other crimes.

Mr. Fabricant

That would seem to be in direct conflict with the advice that we have just received from the Minister. We need to take time to determine whether we can be prosecuted—not that I am advocating that anyone in the House should commit a crime. Regardless of whether we are protected from the criminal law, nobody would wish to commit a crime or to set a bad example in the House of Commons.

Mr. Maclean

Will my hon. Friend reflect on this point? If it is appropriate for the Palace of Westminster and the House to set an example, surely we can do that with our own simple code of rules and procedures, without having to incorporate every jot and tittle of the criminal law, which is designed to prevent unscrupulous people from exploiting loopholes.

We have a host of rules, such as no smoking in the Corridor behind the Speaker's Chair. I hope that a rule will shortly be introduced banning the use of mobile phones in the Pugin Room. We have a whole range of rules of etiquette and procedure that rightly do not apply to people outside, and we can discipline ourselves internally. if we want to set an example by not selling or handing alcohol to youngsters, we can do that through our internal rules in all the relevant bars.

Mr. Fabricant

That is an interesting point, but are those rules not similar to byelaws? Are not they additional laws rather than replacements for those that exist outside? I suspect that they are additional, so my right hon. Friend's point, powerful though it is, may not be entirely relevant in this case.

Mr. Gardiner

I agree that regulations on such things as mobile phones would be part of the rules of any institution, club or group in the country, but all such groups are covered by the laws governing the sale of alcohol, and would be covered by this Bill. However, the peculiarities of the House mean that its catering and refreshment services are not governed by the licensing laws. Amendment No. 53 would simply ensure that the Bill would apply to the House as much as to the rest of the country.

Mr. Fabricant

What the hon. Gentleman says is right, from the point of view of the law. However, the House is the second oldest Parliament in the world, after Iceland's Althing, and we must not risk throwing away its traditions and independence. The ratchet effect evident in the reform of the House of Lords means that, once made, a change is difficult to reverse.

It is interesting that the Bill as drafted did not contain the provision proposed in amendment No. 53. I wonder whether the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) deliberately chose not to include the House of Commons in the provisions of his Bill. The hon. Gentleman is well known to have a great sense of historic tradition, and to understand that the House's value lies in its freedom and independence. Hon. Members can legislate here without fear of outside intervention.

Mr. Truswell

To clarify that point, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I left untouched most of the existing legislation. I touched only those parts that I had to in order to close the loophole that I had identified.

Mr. Fabricant

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention.

The hon. Member for Brent, North said that the Bill would affect the Refreshment Department of the House of Commons. I have the great privilege to serve on the House of Commons Catering Committee, which was mentioned earlier. I hope that hon. Members do not expect me to pass on complaints to members of staff, but the hours worked by both Houses of Parliament set this organisation apart. The laws that govern organisations outside the House cannot apply here, although I repeat that there is no wish to be hypocritical: we must not make laws that we subsequently ignore.

I do not agree with amendment No. 53, and consider that it would not be wise to accept it. The hon. Member for Pudsey is right: effective law is simple and addresses the point. Overall, the Bill does just that. The hon. Gentleman has explained why he has introduced it, and both he and the family of his constituent will have the sympathy of the whole House. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman has the admiration of the House for introducing the Bill, but its proposals must be kept simple. Amendment No. 53 merely complicates matters, and it should be rejected. However, I wish the Bill as a whole well, and hope that it receives a fair passage this morning.

Maria Eagle

Before I speak to the amendments in my name, I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), the promoter of the Bill. I listened carefully when he told the House why the Bill is drafted so narrowly. I understand that approach completely, as I attempted to promote a Bill last year and know the restrictions and difficulties that can be encountered. I have no intention of diverting my hon. Friend from the purpose that he set out so clearly. The amendments in my name are probing amendments that will allow one or two points to be made, but I shall not press them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Ms McCafferty) promoted a Bill similar to this last year. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey won a higher place in the ballot than did my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley last year. Her Bill managed to get a short Second Reading, but it did not get the time that has been devoted to this Bill. My short but intense experience of these matters leaves me with no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey will have been helped by the process that my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley went through last year. We should not forget her when we pass out congratulations on this Bill.

Mr. Truswell

I should like to clarify one matter. I introduced a Bill to try to close the loophole highlighted by the tragic death of David Knowles a year before my hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley (Ms McCafferty) introduced her Bill. Moreover, my hon. Friend's Bill went considerably further than this Bill, and would have been more contentious.

Maria Eagle

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was forgetting his ten-minute Bill on this subject.

Mr. Truswell

I also had a Presentation Bill on this subject.

Maria Eagle

My hon. Friend has put in even more effort than I realised, over a sustained period of time. I am sure that the parents of his constituent will be grateful to him for the effort that he has put in, and we all wish the Bill well.

The debate has made it very clear that it is much more complicated to change the licensing laws than is generally realised. That is one reason why I want to emphasise that I shall not press the amendments in my name, but I shall take this opportunity to explain why I decided to table them.

Amendment No. 5 would insert the word "knowingly" in clause 1, thus making express knowledge a requirement of the selling offence. Licensing laws fail because they are so complex, and because it is difficult to bring prosecutions under them. The amendments probe the extent of the offence and how easily the prosecuting authorities can prove that a licensee or purchaser has committed an offence.

Some of the amendments that I wish to speak to in the first group relate to amendments in the second group. I make no complaint about the grouping of the amendments, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know that it is difficult to group amendments in a way that always puts together the ones that should be together. However, I will have to make some further points when we reach the second group of amendments.

The amendments in the first group appear to be contradictory. Some appear to make the offence harder to prove, while others appear to make it easier to prove. Would express knowledge in the selling offence help or hinder in terms of getting more prosecutions? Would having an absolute offence, with defences, make it easier for prosecutions to be successful, or would having an absolute offence and no defence, while requiring express knowledge, make it easier? My amendments explore what the licensee should be required to know for a prosecution to go ahead. One of the important issues is how easy it is to prosecute and how successful prosecutions are.

12 noon

Mr. Fabricant

Is the word "knowingly" necessary? Is it not the case that in English law, one must have a guilty mind—mens rea? To be guilty, one must knowingly commit an offence, so "knowingly" would be tautologous in this instance.

Maria Eagle

There are some offences in which mens rea as well as actus reus are required, and there are other offences of strict liability in which only actus reus is required. That is the basic legal position—I remember some of my legal training, even though I no longer practice law.

To include the word "knowingly" in the selling offence restores the position that applied before 1988. The Licensing Act 1988 removed "knowingly" from the selling offence. The House should consider whether the legislation was successful in its aim of making it easier to prosecute. Including "knowingly" requires express knowledge by the licensee. It is quite a hard test to meet. To prosecute successfully, the prosecuting authorities would have to be able to show that the licensee had express knowledge—not that he suspected, or did not check—and that it was in his mind when he made the sale that the person to whom he was selling alcohol was under age.

I have checked with the police in my area about this, and I shall come on to their views soon. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) will remember the Licensing Act 1988, as he was active in Home Office affairs at the time. The purpose of removing "knowingly" from the offence of selling, according to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who was the Minister in charge of the legislation and proposed the amendment, was to try to make it easier to prosecute the offence. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said:— The main change that we propose is to delete the requirement of "knowingly" from the first limb of the offence— the selling offence. He went on: The justification for making that change is that it is too difficult to prove, in the context of that offence, that the person had the required knowledge.—[Official Report,3 February 1988; Vol. 126, c. 1005.] That was why "knowingly" was removed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that that would put more of an onus on the licensee and make it easier to prosecute him if he sold alcohol to someone under 18.

As a counterbalance to that additional burden on the licensee, some defences were added to the legislation. If the licensee could show that he had exercised all due diligence before making the sale, that was a defence. If he could show that he had no reason to suspect that the person to whom he sold alcohol was under 18, that would also constitute a defence.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Lady will be aware that the licensing trade is introducing voluntary identity cards. Would not her amendment detract from that useful initiative?

Maria Eagle

There are amendments on the Order Paper about proof of age. I am well aware of the Portman Group's identity card, which appears to be very successful, from what I have read. It seems to have been taken up quite widely by young people, although it is voluntary, and by licensees. Of course, most licensing justices have codes of practice and they encourage people who apply for licences to consider various proof-of-age schemes. If my memory is correct, the White Paper "Time For Reform: Proposals for the modernisation of our licensing laws" refers to proof-of-age schemes, which the Government probably think are a good idea. Perhaps schemes should be not voluntary, but statutory, requiring that a licensee must make inquiries about a person's age.

Amendments Nos. 6 and 7, in the next group, would, unfortunately, insert defences. My amendments would restore the 1964 position. The research paper on the Bill produced by the Library contains, on page 16, section E, statistics on prosecution. The black line showing successful prosecutions rises sharply after the passage of the Licensing Act 1988, but has declined precipitously since. The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said that changing the selling offence should make prosecution easier, but it seems that there was a blip, since when successful prosecutions have plummeted. Is that because the right hon. and learned Gentleman's intention to make prosecution easier was not achieved?

My amendment is intended to provoke the House to consider whether putting the onus on the licensee is the right balance. The Bill sets out several separate offences: sale of intoxicating liquor to a person under 18; allowing sale; purchase; consumption; delivery; and sending a person under 18 to obtain. In a more comprehensive scheme—I do not want to import such a scheme entirely into my hon. Friend's Bill—it might be appropriate to have different tests that the licensee would have to employ or levels of proof that the person charged would have to satisfy. Perhaps we should consider the guidelines and principles required for such requirements, and the amendments are intended to provoke discussion about that.

In some cases, there is a personal responsibility. In the selling offence, the person charged is the licensee who sold the drink. Perhaps the standard expected of such a person should be higher than that for someone charged with allowing someone else to sell, or where selling has happened in his premises while he was not keeping a sufficiently careful eye on it. There could be different requirements for different offences. The highest standard expected of the licensee should apply where he himself sells and is able to influence the outcome of the selling. But it may be sensible to provide a lower standard to make it easier to prosecute the licensee where the offence is more directly his.

On offences such as those in proposed in new section 169C, which relate to purchasing by persons under 18, the licensee could be fooled, and it may be more sensible to include the word "knowingly" so that it becomes more difficult for the licensee to be successfully prosecuted. Additional safeguards could be included, requiring, for example, that the licensee actively seeks proof of age and satisfies himself about it. The fear is that an indifferent landlord might get away without being prosecuted.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Lady raises an interesting point. Let us suppose that an obviously young person ordered a drink in a bar and had an identity card fallaciously showing him or her to be over 18. Does she think that, despite the fact that the identity card was forged, the barman or the person selling the drink could be successfully prosecuted under the measure, without the inclusion of the word "knowingly"?

Maria Eagle

There are two ways to protect that person. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the licensee should be protected in such cases and that one should concentrate more on the person who fraudulently claimed to be over 18 in order to purchase alcohol. One way is to require express knowledge, although there are circumstances in which that would allow culpable people off the hook.

The second way would be to remove "knowingly", but to include defences that would cover cases such as those outlined by the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, amendment No. 9 was intended to be helpful in that respect. It would introduce the word "recklessly", which would apply to the allowing offence. It may assist our discussions if I say a little about the meaning of recklessness.

There are two definitions of the word as it is generally understood in common law—a subjective one and an objective one. They are known as the Cunningham and the Caldwell definitions. Cunningham recklessness is the subjective type. It requires that whoever is accused of recklessness must be shown to have foreseen that the particular kind of harm might be done, and has nevertheless gone ahead and committed, or not committed, the act that has led to the risk being taken. The Caldwell definition is the more objective one. Under that, the accused person has not thought about the action at all, and has done something that an ordinary person, with any common sense, could foresee would result in danger from recklessness. To use that concept of recklessness would be a halfway house between nothing and "knowingly". The inclusion of that concept would aid the prosecution of some offences.

We must consider where it is most appropriate to include that provision. If "knowingly" is thought to be too much of a barrier to prosecution—for example, in the selling or the allowing offences—"recklessness" could be inserted instead, as a halfway house. Thus, if there is evidence that the licensee was recklessly indifferent—that he knew his obligations but did not carry them out, because he was unsure whether the person was under 18—he could be prosecuted.

The insertion of the word "recklessness" in the offence may be helpful; it might do what the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham was trying to do in 1988, when he removed "knowingly" from the selling offence and inserted some defences in the hope that that would lead to more prosecutions and convictions. Perhaps we need to ratchet that down a little by introducing the concept of recklessness. I should be interested to know whether my hon. Friend the Minister is considering that concept as an aid to ensuring more prosecutions, as part of the general review occasioned by the White Paper.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Lady's argument is most persuasive. It reminds me of the concept in English law—indeed, in Talmudic law—of duty of care. Is not that the point? It puts the onus on the seller to have a duty of care towards the person to whom he or she is selling.

Maria Eagle

The hon. Gentleman seems to be introducing civil law to a discussion on criminal law—

Mr. Fabricant

I was thinking of the Talmudic sense.

Maria Eagle

I regret that my legal and religious studies did not extend to Talmudic law. Legally, duty of care is more of a civil issue in respect of negligence, so my view remains that "recklessness" is the appropriate word.

When we consider changing the licensing laws to make them more effective and to ensure that we prevent under-age drinking, it is also important to consider what will work. There is no point in having complex or even simple offences that can be easily understood and defined if the practical effect is that prosecutions are difficult and the deterrent effect, which successful prosecutions represent, does not come into force.

12.15 pm

It is interesting to examine what has happened since the last major change was made to the licensing laws. Page 16 of the Library research paper contains licensing and prosecution statistics. They show that the general trend is a decline in the number of prosecutions and convictions and a fairly steady trend for the number of licences in force. The number of licences has gone up and down slightly, but the trend is fairly steady. However, the number of convictions secured against people for selling alcohol to under-age drinkers has plummeted, even though the number has just begun gently to climb back up.

The most important thing that we can do, in redefining the offences, is to simplify them and make them more effective. That requires that they work, so that prosecutions are successful when they are mounted. I assume, of course, that prosecutions are not undertaken unless the prosecuting authorities believe that they can secure a conviction. For the graph to show that the number of convictions has fallen so far suggests that there is a problem with the definition of the offences.

The graph suggests that there might be a problem with the enforcing authorities and that they might be taking too lax a view of under-age drinking. To investigate that possibility when I was considering whether my amendments would be helpful, I contacted a sergeant in the licensing section of Merseyside police and asked him about his experience. He told me that some requirements of the law on express knowledge are so complex that they do not just prevent successful prosecutions, but prevent prosecutions from being mounted at all. Therefore, other sanctions, such as warnings, tend to be used. If someone has a record of breaches of the licensing law, a revocation of his licence may be pursued. However, prosecutions are low on the list of sanctions because it is difficult to mount them successfully.

The figures in the Library research paper suggest that that problem is widespread and that it is not found only in the area covered by the licensing justices in south Liverpool. That is because the requirement to identify express knowledge is such a high hurdle that people no longer attempt to do it. The introduction of the concept of recklessness may assist and do everyone a service by ensuring that more prosecutions are mounted and that, when they are, more of them are successful. That can only act as a deterrent to irresponsible licence holders.

Later, we shall deal with the problems that do not arise from licence holders themselves, but it is important that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey felt confident that the proxy purchase provisions, which were in last year's Licensing (Young Persons) Bill, would achieve a consensus in the House. Therefore, he felt able to reintroduce them in Committee given that they were not in this Bill as originally drafted. He is attempting to deal with the loophole that has been brought to his attention, and he has done everyone a service by introducing the proxy purchase provisions. It is important that those provisions are included in the Bill if licensing law is to be improved and simplified.

We must consider the position of prosecuting authorities and police officers on the ground, and how practicable it will be to mount prosecutions. I do not intend to press my amendments, but I hope that they will provoke in the Minister's mind—if not in anyone else's—thoughts about how to proceed. The key point is to ensure that people can be charged with offences that they have committed and prosecutions can be brought successfully without barriers being too high.

We shall consider defences against prosecution when we debate the second group of amendments, and discuss whether due diligence and express knowledge are important and whether the licence holder can show that he has no reason to believe that a young person is not over 18. However, we must get the balance right because simplifying the law will not work if securing convictions is not possible or practicable.

We shall discuss raising the number of convictions when we come to debate the third group of amendments. Statistics show clearly that under-age drinking is a serious problem, although loopholes in the law on that are being addressed. Nevertheless, the number of convictions is too low. Only when we get across to licence holders and those responsible for selling and delivering alcohol the seriousness with which Parliament and society view such problems will we be able to make a real impact on the number of offences and, at last, reduce them significantly. Only when that happens will the problem of under-age drinking be seriously tackled. I have made my point on the present group of amendments, so I shall not detain the House further.

Mr. Maclean

All the amendments are important, but those in this large group are especially significant, as they contain some key elements. It is therefore right that the House has spent a considerable period discussing the group. We should be able to complete our consideration of the Bill within the allocated time today, allowing it to proceed to its next stage. However, I do not believe that we should curtail unduly our comments on the many amendments in this group.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) for getting the Bill this far and for the changes that he has made. I believe that he has looked at previous legislation on the matter. On that point, I am grateful for the kind words of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) who recited the history of some of last year's private Members' Bills and told us what happened to them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and I played a part in discussing those Bills which, for various reasons, did not proceed further.

The hon. Member for Pudsey has had the wisdom to limit the scope of his Bill, which is still complex and amends section 169 of the Licensing Act 1964. He has not attempted to do too much by including in the Bill test purchasing, which we may discuss in a few minutes. However, the Bill is reasonable and its subject matter is entirely appropriate for a private Member's Bill. Of course, it cannot deal with the case of David Knowles, but it can help to prevent such tragedies in future.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Pudsey on getting this far and wish him all success for the remaining stages. I echo the sentiments of my right hon. and erudite Friend in suggesting that, as far as possible, we make all necessary amendments in this Chamber. Given the backlog of legislation that might be accumulating in another place, attempting to table amendments there and to get the Bill back here on time might be too tall an order. No doubt, Government business managers know better than I do, but it might be safer to make any amendments in this place because we might run out of time.

I listened with fascination to the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Garston. It is always refreshing to listen to someone who knows their legal subject and who is able to cast some light on some of my concerns. The word "knowingly" does not feature in proposed new section 169A, but it is included in sections 169B and others. Why is there a different emphasis?

I must confess that I did not do the research that the hon. Member for Garston conducted, and therefore did not discover that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) and the previous Conservative Government removed the word "knowingly" in the hope that it would make prosecution easier. I listened also with fascination to the statistics that the hon. Lady quoted. Removal of the word "knowingly" might not have made the dramatic difference that my right hon. and learned Friend had hoped for in 1988.

New sections 169A, 169B, 169C, 169D, 169E, 169F and so on, attempt to deal with quite different problems: who sells the liquor; who buys it; the manager-type person who allows the sale; who sends someone to buy alcohol for someone who is under age; and delivery. There are many different areas and perhaps there should be different penalties and standards of proof.

The law always comes down more heavily on the licensee—the seller. I am one of those who believe that the law should come down more heavily on the person who initiates the criminal offence by buying the alcohol. The under-age person who deliberately sets out to buy alcohol is committing the greater moral wrong and a greater crime than the person who knowingly, unwittingly or without due diligence sells it.

That might be an odd view; it is not generally accepted and I perfectly understand why it is much easier to prosecute the licensee. It is much easier to penalise that person because he or she has more to lose, can usually afford to pay higher penalties and is easier to catch. I merely flag up the point that, if we are to tackle alcohol abuse, although we must of course clobber people—whether they work in supermarkets, off-licences, pubs, bars or other facilities, whatever they may be—who carelessly, negligently or deliberately break the law by selling alcohol to young people, with potentially disastrous consequences, as we have seen, we must not at the same time sit back as legislators and say, "We have clobbered the sellers and plugged every possible loophole in the sale, delivery and supply of alcohol, let us congratulate ourselves and not target potential under-age buyers." We must target them even more so—not necessarily with the full panoply of the criminal law, but through more education programmes and advice and, yes, if necessary, the criminal law. Such people are equally, if not more, guilty than the person who sells.

I was going to pose a range of questions to the Minister to justify inserting the word "knowingly" into line 9, but having heard the exposition of the hon. Member for Garston, I do not need to do so at nearly such great length. However, I would like the Minister to tell me whether he thinks that reinserting "knowingly" into the new section 169A offence and thus restoring the pre-1988 position would constitute an improvement. Would it lead to more convictions and, if it were done, would it be preferable to drop some of the defences mounted in new subsections (2) and (3)?

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My next question is why we are not to drop "knowingly" from new section 169B. That appears to be inconsistent. I do not challenge the order of selection, but it has to be said that it forces us to wrestle with widely varying concepts. It is not fair to ask the Minister why the previous Government, of which I was a member, maintained the word "knowingly" in the section 169B offence, while it was apparently legitimate in 1988 to omit "knowingly" from the section 169A offence. Perhaps it is more appropriate to ask him why the current Government think that "knowingly" should be maintained—if, indeed, that is their policy. If the Minister intends to reject the amendments to remove the word "knowingly" from new sections 169B and 169F, what is the justification for that, given that the Government may choose not to reinsert it in new section 169A? That appears to impose a far heavier burden of proof.

Mr. Heald

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"?

Mr. Maclean

I take my hon. Friend's point. In the legislative process, it is always helpful to have a certain number of lawyers present, and his presence on the Opposition Front Bench, with that of the hon. Member for Garston on the Government Benches, gives welcome aid to our deliberations.

As I said, I originally had much to say about the word "knowingly", but the hon. Lady's speech has enabled me to curtail my remarks. I am conscious that other hon. Members want to contribute and that we all want progress to be made. However, I want to comment on the amendments that would add to new section 169A(1) the words "from" or "through", after "in", with the result that it would read: A person shall be guilty of an offence if, in licensed premises or "from" licensed premises, or "through" licensed premises— he sells intoxicating liquor to a person under eighteen. I am not sure which of the two words suggested is the best, but I approve of the concept behind both. I would be persuaded not to support them—I hasten to say that I do not want to force any Divisions today, lest that disturb the relationship that the hon. Member for Pudsey has carefully built up with both sides of the House and with Ministers to ensure smooth passage for his legislation—only if the Minister said that the amendments were absolutely unnecessary, because the phrase "in licensed premises" does not mean strictly within the four walls of such premises, but can encompass, conceptually or legally, liquor being sold from licensed premises, or through the medium of licensed premises.

That brings me to the important subject of internet sales. I have tried internet sales for intoxicating liquor, or rather, wine. If one admits to purchasing intoxicating liquor, some strict Presbyterian constituent may write and complain about a Member of Parliament touching such filthy stuff. I was merely referring to wine, which of course still is intoxicating liquor, but does not sound as bad.

Internet sales seem to work reasonably well, and one gets delivery promptly, at the time that one specifies. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) is no longer in his place. Only last week, I tried out Waitrose.com and, with a bit of luck, there will be a delivery through our new incoming mail, courier and parcel service, which the Department of the Serjeant at Arms has set up. I may get a delivery to my office fridge any day now.

There is a whole new medium for selling intoxicating liquor. I come back to my earlier intervention: we are amending the Licensing Act 1964. In 1964, the mediums for selling intoxicating liquor were off-licences—whether on tick in West Kilbride or not—or pubs. I am not sure whether any supermarket had a licence to sell liquor then, but I suspect not. I do not recall, and I cannot find in the Library paper, a reference to the first time that a supermarket could sell intoxicating liquor. That may have been in the 1960s, but it is more likely that that boom occurred in the 1970s.

It is understandable, therefore, that when Home Office officials briefed the parliamentary draftsmen in 1964 to deal with the problem and amend previous legislation, they thought about the ways in which liquor could get into the hands of young people. They could go to a pub and get it; they could go to an off-licence and get it. Consequently, the law was drafted to deal with the people who would sell liquor from a pub or from an off-licence, and the people who would go in and buy it from a pub or an off-licence.

Now we have telephone ordering and fax facilities, but internet ordering in particular offers a new outlet and delivery mechanism. People no longer need physically enter a licensed premises. Alcohol can be delivered by a organisation that presumably has a licence to sell and distribute liquor. I assume that Waitrose.com, Tesco.com or other.co.uk firms such as Safeway, all the other supermarket chains and Bordeaux Direct have a warehouse somewhere which is licensed to supply. I am not sure under which part of the Act, or what the mechanism is, and it may not technically be licensed premises, but the company will have a licence to distribute intoxicating liquor to individuals in their homes.

Section 169 does not on the face of it deal with those possibilities. It refers to a person being guilty of an offence "in licensed premises". We need reassurance from the Minister about the applicability of the provisions of the 1964 Act to internet and e-mail sales and whether there are provisions elsewhere.

Mr. Phil Woolas (Oldham, East and Saddleworth)

In the right hon. Gentleman's experience of ordering wine by e-mail from supermarkets, wine clubs and so on, which is now a widespread practice, have there been any checks on his age? Did that feature in the transaction?

Mr. Maclean

None at all. There may be a box on the web page to tick if one is under 18. In one case, there was a warning that the company did not sell to anyone under 18.

I do not have children, but I know people with children who are 15 and older. Once Dad or Mum's credit card is registered with Safeway or Tesco, anyone in the household can use it to order items from the internet. One hears of cases—not cases of the 12-bottle kind—of parents discovering that their offspring, aged 15, 16, 17 or 18, have ordered items from the web. Nothing on the wine suppliers' web pages prevents young people from ordering alcohol. Suppliers are interested only in the credit card number. There is no way of checking up, and suppliers can depend only on the honesty of the person who claims to be over 18.

Mr. Gardiner

The primary check is the credit card, as cards they are not available to someone who is not yet 18. However, the right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that, if someone who is under 18 fraudulently claims to be the owner of a credit card, any number of boxes to tick will make no difference because the initial fraud is impersonation of a credit card holder.

Mr. Maclean

I accept that point. A company that supplies wine or any intoxicating liquor, ordered through the internet with a credit card is probably entitled to rely on the customer's honesty about age. It could probably use the defence that it had no reason to suspect that the customer was under 18. When asked why, a company could say, "A credit card was used, therefore the customer had to be over 18, my lord."

In the real world, many parents who are satisfied with the honesty and integrity of their 17 or 16-year-olds will happily trust them to order items. [Interruption.] Wise parents opposite say that they would never do that. However, families will order drinks for a party or for Christmas. Children are experts in technology and the web. Their parents may not be such experts, and they may ask the children to get onto the Tesco website and order a bottle of this and a case of that. The children may ask, "Can I have your credit card number, Dad?" He may reply, "Here it is. Don't use it again without my permission." That is use with parental consent.

There will be other cases. If colleagues have ordered anything from the internet, they will know that computer-literate children can look up the history page, go into "favourites", or look at the registration details and pick up the credit card number. They can thus order anything without parental consent. They must of course face parental wrath, however administered.

The legal point is that the Bill is not designed around the new technology and the new possibilities, which are not fanciful. It is invidious to cite a supermarket from which I rarely shop, Tesco, and thus give it an unnecessary advantage, but it boasted a couple of weeks ago that it would create 10,000 new jobs because of its internet sales. A large part of its internet sales is alcohol. The internet is the big growth industry. It is therefore reasonable to assume from all the forecasts for web sales that, in two or three years, most alcohol will change hands, from whichever source, through the internet.

Some hon. Members and I have asked whether various clauses are internet proof. We have discussed proposed new section 169F, which covers delivery. There may be a loophole there because subsection (4) does not apply where the delivery is made at the residence or working place of the purchaser.

12.45 pm
Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East)

I do not know how often the right hon. Gentleman has ordered goods on the internet, although he mentioned ordering from Waitrose.com. We in Leeds cannot do that as we have no Waitrose. However, there are many other such suppliers. Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that credit or debit card details on the internet are registered in a secure form with the web page through a password? That offers some protection against a 15-year-old clicking on to the website's history page, finding out the password, logging in and extracting credit card details. If an under-age drinker has the card in his or her hand that is different, but card details, once registered, are usually released by using the password. So long as people keep their password to themselves, they should be secure.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but, given the huge growth of online supermarket shopping, it is not unreasonable to think that many households will carry out the boring task of grocery shopping over the internet, even though that is not a fast way to shop. It is sometimes quicker to whiz around the supermarket than to access the registers of all the different household goods that people want. Members with children aged 12 and upwards will be better able to comment than I am, but is it not likely that parents will say to their children, "Get on with it and order the groceries. Here's the list of the stuff that we need. Here is my password; order the toilet rolls and the bleach"? Those children might spend two hours ordering the basic essentials.

That is not a fanciful scenario; it will happen more and more. Internet shopping may be exciting the first couple of times, but it can become pretty boring if people have to order dozens of items. In such circumstances, youngsters will have ready access to the internet because parents will give it to them. Most children will not abuse that access by ordering a crate of booze on their parents' credit card, but I suspect that we shall have to return to the measure in a couple of years because developments on the internet and with delivery mechanisms and the little matters that we do not spot today will create loopholes. We are trying to amend the 1964 Act, which contained no concept of internet shopping or ordering by telephone. Clever criminals will exploit that, but it is more likely that clever youngsters with changing life styles and attitudes will create problems, which the House will have to solve. I shall now move on from that point because we have flagged it up enough.

I am tempted by amendment No. 26, under which the word "person" would be replaced with the term "an employee or agent", because it deals with the problem in the tragic David Knowles case of 1997. The word "person" has been used for the person who is under 18—the potential buyer—and the person who may be selling. We do not want to use the word "licensee", because doing so was the problem: it was far too restrictive and we wanted it to cover the manager, the shop owner and the part-time salesperson. However, I am unsure whether replacing the highly restrictive term "licensee", which has a specific legal meaning, with "person" would go too far and be too vague. We want to catch the licensee and his employees and his agents—the staff. That is the problem, is it not? I am not sure whether the use of the terminology "any person." is the right approach. I am tempted to support, at least in spirit, amendments tabled by Labour Members that delete the word "person" and insert "employee or agent".

Mr. Gardiner

I see the right hon. Gentleman's point, but he will be conscious of the fact that the loophole that the Bill seeks to address came about from wording that referred to the licensee and his servants. Trends in the sale of liquor have developed since then. In 1964 when the original Bill was drafted, it was not predicted that people would be employed by company chains and would not be servants of the licensee. In 20 or 30 years' time, there may be further developments, and a restricted wording such as the right hon. Gentleman proposes would no longer be appropriate and a loophole would arise similar to the one that we are now trying to plug.

Mr. Maclean

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. It is always wise never to assume that we are passing legislation that is loophole free and will last a lifetime—or more than one Parliament. No Government like to admit that they may have to return to their legislation in a few years' time, whether it is on dangerous dogs or anything else. We stand here, especially on Fridays as we discuss Third Readings, and say that we have passed perfect legislation that will ensure that a problem never happens again.

In a fast-moving, technological world with e-commerce, with rapidly changing attitudes and with young people becoming more and more sophisticated, the wise course is to say that we are passing legislation that probably deals with every problem that we can envisage at the moment, but next year we may have to reconsider it to deal with another matter. That is no slight on the promoter of the Bill or the Government. It is a recognition of how fast things are moving in today's world.

Mr. Efford

Can the right hon. Gentleman help me? What is the definition of "agent"? Would a computer be defined as an agent of someone selling alcohol?

Mr. Maclean

I honestly do not know, but a computer would certainly not be defined as a person, so that could be a loophole. A computer would have a better chance of being defined as an agent than as a person. We either use the word "person" and do not define it, or we include in the Bill references to "employee", "agent", "servant" and "licensee". That could be messy and may miss out a category of person who is employed or may next year be employed, such as internet salesgirls. We could use the term "person" and provide that "persons" shall include employees, agents, computer technology, virtual reality purchasing systems or whatever. Labour Members have tabled an amendment to delete the word "person" and have suggested the term "employee" or "agent", and we must have the Minister's reassurance on the matter.

I am conscious that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) and some of my hon. Friends have been trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and we want details from the Minister before we move on to the next group of amendments, so I shall conclude my remarks on amendment No. 53. I was going to talk about the term "or similar facility", which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has suggested, but that has been discussed enough for the Minister to respond.

I am not sure that we should accept amendment No. 53, which would apply the same licensing laws or the same general body of law to the House of Commons or the Palace of Westminster as apply to other organisations. The Bill mainly applies to off-licences and bars. There may be quite a few Bars in this place, and I suppose that our shop may be considered an off-licence, but it is not the primary purpose of this legislature to sell alcohol, especially to children, or to conduct the commercial activities that are the primary purposes covered by new section 169.

It is perfectly right to say that we will not apply licensing legislation carte blanche to the Palace of Westminster. How do we deal with the valid point raised by the hon. Member for Garston who said that we should set an example? If we pass a Bill saying that people outside this Palace should not buy liquor for those under 18, or should not commit any of the offences laid down here, what do we do to set an example? If we are minded to act in that respect and we want to apply the same precepts of criminal law inside this Palace, I suggest that we simply amend our internal rules. We do not have to apply every jot and tittle of every Act of Parliament.

I am sure that we could condense the proposals of the Bill into one clause in parliamentary terms. The Bill must be complex because there will be licensees and sellers with clever lawyers who will try to get around the law. The purpose of making the Bill complex is to avoid loopholes. We should not need complex laws applying to conduct in the House of Commons.

Behind the Chair, in the Corridor, is a notice which—wrongly, in my opinion—forbids us from having a cigarette. When one is tense in the Chamber, one can no longer go out for a quick fag to calm one's nerves. I do not smoke cigarettes myself, but I respect the right of others to do so. I have not seen anyone break that law in the Corridor, the Library or anywhere else where the anti-smoking noose is tightening around the poor souls who need a fag now and again. However, we do not need a huge Act of Parliament for that—there is simply a notice, by order of the Serjeant at Arms, forbidding smoking here, there and everywhere else. People obey; if they do not, the House applies its own sanctions.

Mr. Gardiner

The right hon. Gentleman talks about the regulations governing conduct in this House, which do not go to the heart of parliamentary privilege. Amendment No. 53 concerns parliamentary privilege because the licensing laws as they stand do not apply to royal palaces or to the House of Commons and House of Lords. It is not a question of having a large Bill to remedy that. It is not a complex process; it is simply a matter of implementing an extremely simple amendment to the Bill, so that the whole of the Bill applies to the House of Commons in the same way as it does outside.

Mr. Maclean

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in principle. We should maintain parliamentary privilege in the House of Commons, as well as the exemptions for this place as a royal palace—not for any misguided sense of history, but because it sets a better example. We can say that we are applying the same law internally, but that we do not need all the chapters of the law to do so.

I have always worked under the assumption that Members are not breaking the licensing rules internally. I am happy to be corrected, but I would not imagine that any hon. Member or member of staff was breaking the licensing rules. I suspect that no bar man or woman in the House of Commons would knowingly break the rules either, although if a Member of Parliament asked for a lager and lime for his 12-year-old, I suspect the bar man would feel duty-bound to serve the Member of Parliament. The Member would have the right to demand the drink, and should take the blame.

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If there are rules that should apply to the House of Commons, we should apply them through our own internal procedures while maintaining the right not to apply statute law. The same goes for the health and safety rules. We should move as expeditiously as we can to having all the same health and safety requirements as everyone else—as far as we possibly can in an 1854 building. I suspect that the new building will comply with the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963.

If we directly applied every aspect of that Act in this old building, we would be able to fit only about 10 people into the offices here. Much of our accommodation is far too cramped to accord with that law, but it is perfectly acceptable to us. I use this merely as an example to illustrate the point about regulations applying to the House of Commons. I do not want to get sidetracked too far from licensing and amendment No. 53 on to health and safety.

We should attempt to comply with the spirit of the provisions, without having to incorporate the whole body of the law or apply it to us. If we go down the route of removing the privilege of the House of Commons and the other place, it is a small step to removing other privileges, including the right to free speech.

Mr. Gardiner

I entirely agree that there is no question of hon. Members intentionally trying to procure intoxicating liquor for minors, but let me paint a scenario in which a Member of Parliament has an intern, researcher or secretary who is under 18. That young person could visit any of the Bars and buy alcoholic liquor, and there would be no redress whatever against the person who sells the liquor. If the amendment were made, redress would be available. Without in any way impugning—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is painting a very lengthy scenario.

Mr. Maclean

We can have the redress if we want it, through our own internal rules and procedures. The hon. Gentleman cannot lift the relevant sections of the 1964 Act and say that the law applies to the House of Commons, because we would then have to accept the whole of that Act. We would have to apply to licensing magistrates and would create a whole new bureaucracy, with an appeal system and everything else that is in the 1964 Act, a copy of which I have here.

We have spent a considerable time discussing section 169, which is very important, but if we make it apply to the House of Commons, we may have to take the Act lock, stock and barrel. We would have to have the name of the Serjeant at Arms—or perhaps your name, Mr. Deputy Speaker—painted above the door. We do not want to have to paint "Serjeant at Arms licensed to sell intoxicating liquor" above the door of the Pugin Room, but the Act requires the licensee's name and address to be painted above the door of the premises.

If we want to set an example or to apply parts of the Act in spirit or in reality, the solution is to make a resolution and tell the Serjeant at Arms that we want to apply section 169 and ensure that people cannot buy alcohol for under-age children—the children of Members of Parliament or of their constituents. We can put up a notice and apply sanctions on a host of matters.

I hope that an internal rule banning mobile phones from the Pugin Room is brought in soon. Their use in that place is, in my view, a criminal offence worthy of five years in the Tower of London, but the Minister knows that I have strong views on criminal sanctions.

However, we can apply a host of regulations to both Houses of Parliament that are not elements of the criminal law. For instance, it is not an offence to smoke in most corridors in the country, but to do so in some of the Corridors here is against our internal rules. That is how it should be—the House must be able to regulate itself and set an example, but we must be careful not to erode the important principles of parliamentary privilege by unnecessarily applying sections of criminal law to the House of Commons.

Mr. Russell Brown

The House no doubt awaits with bated breath the private Members' Bill that the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) will introduce to ban mobile phones from the Pugin Room. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) on getting his Bill this far. I hope that it leaves the House of Commons at the end of the debate and moves on to the other place.

I shall speak to the amendments in this group tabled in my name and in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne). However, in case any hon. Member is not aware of the fact, I point out that clause 3(3) states: This Act does not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland. That point was emphasised on Second Reading by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross)

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) argued, in connection with amendment No. 5, for the insertion of the word "knowingly" in proposed new section 169A(1) of the Licensing Act 1964, but amendment No. 15 would delete the same word from proposed new section 169B of that Act. The Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 has served the people of Scotland well for a quarter of a century. It is important to look at that legislation and to learn what lessons we can from it. The word "knowingly", as proposed in clause 1, is not used in the equivalent section of the 1976 Act.

It has to be said that is almost impossible to gain a conviction under the licensing laws as they stand, as the research paper referred to by my hon. Friend shows. If licensees, suppliers or providers make a genuine mistake about the age of a person, they should be protected.

Amendments Nos. 16 and 77, which are in the next group to be considered, have been tabled, by me and by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, to provide that protection.

I want to refer to the prosecution of a Mr. James Morrison Noble, a licensee who appeared in court on 23 November 1965. He was charged with knowingly permitting drunkenness on his premises. He pled not guilty to the charge. He was found guilty and liable, and fined £5. At his request, the magistrate stated that it was a case for the opinion of the High Court of Justiciary. I want to go through the following proceedings, because it demonstrates an aspect of "knowingly", which is so important.

The case went to the High Court before a Full Bench—the ultimate authority in Scotland. That was important in relation to the decision that was reached, bearing in mind that the appellant had been found guilty.

The case centred around an evening in September 1965 when the police approached the premises in question and discovered that the lights were still on at 11.20 pm. In those days, licensed premises closed at 10 o'clock. There was a certain amount of noise. When the police eventually gained access to the premises, they found a youth, Dennis Flynn, aged 18 years of age, lying on a bench unconscious, in a state of intoxication. Efforts to rouse the youth were unsuccessful. The officers then went downstairs to the lounge bar, where they found five men and three women. One of the men, James Spanivich, was staggering around the room, obviously under the influence of drink.

The officers searched the building further and found another three men and a woman in the manager's office. The appellant was not present at the time of the offence, but the manager, James Welch, was in sole charge at the time the police officers had entered the premises.

Apart from the two persons already mentioned, everyone else in the building was sober. I find it somewhat difficult to believe, when people have been locked into a pub for almost an hour and a half after it has closed, that only two people were intoxicated.

Mr. Woolas

In Scotland!

Mr. Brown

Yes, in Scotland.

When the case appeared before the Full Bench of the High Court, it was argued, and decided, that the appellant had not personally permitted the drunkenness and that he had no knowledge of it. The condition attached to his certificate was that he should not knowingly permit drunkenness in the premises licensed. The wording of the condition was plain and unambiguous, and knowledge on the part of the licensee was required before he could be found guilty of a contravention.

The case demonstrates that aspect of "knowingly". The licensee had appointed a manager who had done his best to ensure that the property was being run in a way that complied with the licence conditions. It is a difficult situation, which is why the amendment to remove "knowingly" from proposed new section 169B(1) is being considered.

Amendment No. 22 would insert "an employee or agent" instead of "some other person" in proposed new section 169A(3). It concerns licensees ensuring that their employees conduct the business in a proper manner. Assuming that the crime is committed at the hands of another, how can we determine what is "knowingly" going on in those premises?

1.15 pm

The successful employment of an agent to act on one's behalf relies on the manner in which people are instructed and trained. Employee management must be considered. There is a need for a defence so that a licensee can share the responsibility for what goes on within licensed premises. However, if the licensee is to be held responsible, he or she must ensure that his or her agent has the authority to conduct the business properly. Merely to specify some other person is wholly inappropriate. It is not the case that any old person can walk in off the street and serve alcohol from behind a bar or in an off-licence. We must be clearer about what person we mean. We are talking about an employee or an agent.

I do not wish to enter into debate about the other amendments. The points that my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and I have tried to include in the Bill have been addressed. I am keen to hear the Minister's response. We shall not press our amendments to a vote as they were intended to probe.

Mr. Heald

The Opposition made it clear from the outset and on Second Reading that we support the Bill, which closes a loophole. It had its genesis in the tragic circumstances of David Knowles, and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) for his diligence in pursuing the matter. He has had the common sense to limit the ambit of his Bill to the loophole, rather than risking its passage, as many do, by including a wide range of controversial matters. I congratulate him and wish him well. My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), an active student of Friday proceedings, also congratulated the hon. Gentleman on not taking too many risks with a good Bill that is a tribute to him.

The hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) started our proceedings with a lengthy tour de force. I felt a little sorry for him when my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) presented him with the Wiener schnitzel conundrum, but he handled it remarkably well. Indeed, it seemed to embolden him into giving us a startling vision into his reasons for amendment No. 20, which inserts the word "from" at a crucial point. Under the amendment, a person would be guilty not only of selling liquor to under-18s in licensed premises, but from them. The hon. Gentleman conjured up the vision of a child, perhaps in West Kilbride, attending a public house with a bunch of roses and saying, "Please can granny have some Stella Artois from the back door?". Apparently, the whole building would have been covered in roses so that the child could receive two cans of the relevant brew. That was a startling vision.

Mr. Gardiner

The hon. Gentleman has conflated amendments Nos. 20 and 19. The Stella Artois amendment was No. 19, but I take his remarks in the spirit in which they are meant.

Mr. Heald

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am sorry that I got it wrong. That was partly because my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield said it sounded like "Cider with Rosie".

Amendment No. 20 and the amendments proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who suggested that the word "through" should be added, raise an important issue: are a substantial number of people buying from—or through—licensed premises, rather than in them? I shall be interested in the Minister's comments as to whether the amendment is necessary, because the drafting might already encompass it. If it does not, does he approve of the amendment? Is there any evidence that such purchases of alcohol are on the rise? The amendments are not objectionable to the Opposition.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) and other hon. Members referred to the "meant" element in such offences—whether the concept of recklessness should be included as well as that of knowledge, or whether, in an offence where a licensee sells alcohol to those under 18, the concept of "knowingly" should be introduced.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) introduced a change in the 1980s because it is a heavy task to prove that a landlord knows that a person is 18. That change was right and it should not be reversed. If it can be shown that an under-18-year-old purchased alcohol from a licensee or a person working at the premises, it is important that the burden should be on them to show both that there was no suspicion that the buyer was under the age of 18 and that they had taken steps to satisfy themselves on that point. It is right that that is where the burden should lie in cases involving direct sales.

The test is slightly different for other offences. If somebody is employed by a landlord or a company, that relationship means that the employer allows the employee to sell alcohol on those premises. Obviously, the contract would not state that alcohol could be sold to under-18s, but the offence needs to make it clear that the employer is acting knowingly in those circumstances. That is the mischief that the law should attempt to remedy. The current law is probably right, although I should be interested in the Minister's view.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border suggested that rather more pressure should be put on the person purchasing, and that offences that affect the purchaser could be strengthened. Again, I should be interested to hear the Minister's view.

There was much discussion by my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield of e-issues—what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst referred to as the e-thing. I think that they may have been referring to modern technology. I should be interested in the Minister's perspective on these matters. Perhaps he buys his wine from Waitrose Wine Direct, just as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border does. The Opposition have drawn no conclusions as to whether amendments are definitely needed, but, if they are, we should be supportive.

A range of other issues were aired. They included whether we should define the seller by reference to an employee or agent. I think that such a proposal would create more problems than it would solve. The Bill has reached the point where it defines a person as the potential defendant, so to return to definitions of "employee" and "agency", which are complicated from a legal point of view, would probably create an unnecessary difficulty. We do not want that to happen.

I am doubtful about the concept of reckless indifference, which appeared in an amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Garston. There must be some doubt about what amendment No. 59, tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, and the term "similar facility" mean. We all know what a bar is and, if we do not, it is defined in the licence that a licensee holds. However, the concept of a "similar facility" could keep lawyers busy and in gainful employment for many a year.

Amendment No. 59 would also create difficulties in terms of pub gardens. It is suggested that one could be guilty if one bought alcohol for consumption in a bar or similar facility, which could include a pub garden. In the summer, many families go to pub gardens where there is play equipment. It can be a pleasant afternoon out. If the parents want sensibly to give a taste of wine or another drink to a child, that is not a terrible act on which the law should bear down. In fact, it is responsible to teach moderate alcohol consumption to children. It would be a mistake to constrain such behaviour in the way that the amendment would do. I do not want the law on that to be changed without the fullest consultation with the industry and the other groups that have been consulted in the past. I am not willing to support the amendment today.

The only other issue that I want to mention briefly is the Scottish experience. The hon. Member for Brent, North was right to refer to that, but I am not sure that the example he gave relates to the provision to which he referred. He gave an example of a different kind. Although the Scottish experience is always useful to consider, it did not take us much further in this case.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend will know that the Bill does not apply to Scotland or to Northern Ireland. Does he suppose that that is because existing legislation in Scotland already covers this subject or because of the Scots' innate ability to accept drink more readily than the English?

Mr. Heald

I would never say anything disparaging about the Scots. Scots law is frightfully interesting and well worth examining. As an English lawyer, I probably, on balance, prefer ours, but I would certainly not criticise theirs. My hon. Friend was just teasing me.

Mr. Fabricant

indicated assent.

Mr. Heald

Finally, I reiterate the Opposition's support for the Bill. We wish it well and I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments on the amendments.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

It is appropriate that I reply at this point to the debate, but, first, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) on his decision to introduce a Bill on licensing so as to close a clear lacuna in the law. It is an important Bill, and I share his deep concern about the unlawful sale of alcohol to young people. I gladly tell him that the Government will fully support the Bill. On balance, the best way of doing that is to leave the Bill unamended. I shall explain the reasons for that in due course.

1.30 pm

Before doing so, I shall make some general comments on the debate, which has been very good. I welcome strongly the contribution of the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) who spoke for the Opposition and said that they supported the Bill. That shows how my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey has brought together Members on both sides of the House to gain broad support for a focus Bill, which deals with a particular problem in an exemplary manner.

During our debate, hon. Members raised many issues, including the use of the internet to purchase alcohol, that give rise to serious considerations that the House needs to discuss at length and in detail, perhaps on another occasion. The complexities of the issues are such that the Government want to think them through. Once we have debated the White Paper on licensing, we may be better placed to examine further many issues raised in today's debate.

There were good contributions to the debate and, more importantly, some amusing ones. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner), setting out the case for his amendments—which I shall reject—was a tour de force. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) also participated in the debate, and in a tour de force of his own, set out the case for his amendments, only to proceed to demolish that case with vigour. As our debate progressed, he wisely acknowledged the weakness of some of his amendments and indicated that he would not press them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey set out his case. I agree that the Bill should be a focus Bill and that wider issues should not be included in it unnecessarily, as they would be better dealt with in a licensing Bill. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) regaled us with tales of Ye Olde King's Head in Los Angeles, which we shall remember, and which may come back to haunt him one day. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) used her legal training to give a learned exposition of her case. In due course, we shall seek to be as erudite in seeking to persuade her not to press her amendments.

The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) has considerable experience as a Home Office Minister and raised some important issues. I agree that we must, in his words, clobber those involved in the sale and delivery of alcohol to under-age people. He believes that we should go further and examine wider issues on which, as I said, he gave us much food for thought. It may be better to consider those issues at length and with greater care during the consideration of the White Paper and, no doubt, during debate on a licensing Bill which will follow.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) raised several important issues, some going beyond the scope of the Bill, to which I wish to give serious consideration. I thank him for his excellent contribution.

The amendments deal with sales effectively conducted from premises, such as sales made from a shop or supermarket by telephone or computer link, or perhaps by a credit facility. What constitutes a sale is already a complicated matter under existing licensing law and, indeed, to some extent, rather obscure. That is one reason why we need to examine the broader issue of licensing law in the White Paper. A registered private members' club, for example, does not technically in law sell alcohol to its members, even though money may change hands. That is because a member owns part of the stock and cannot purchase what he already owns. The exchange of money is merely in law a means of ensuring that no single member obtains more than his fair share. However, the club does not supply alcohol to its members. Again, "supply" has a technical meaning quite different from sale.

In the context of the discussion about the House of Commons and amendment No. 53, that issue is important. Certain clubs will be excluded from some of the provisions because they will not be undertaking a sale. The House of Commons is therefore not unique in the way in which the legislation will apply. There are many clubs in most towns to which the provisions may not apply.

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. Consumption is not permitted on off-licence premises. Without the opportunity to take legal advice on some of the technical implications of the wording of some hon. Members' amendments, I am reluctant to offer wholehearted Government support for them. We obviously intend to address modern types of sale in the Bill that we shall eventually introduce, following the White Paper. Indeed, it is an important aspect of modernising our law. However, we need to get it right and to avoid causing problems in practice for the courts.

Credit cards cannot lawfully be held by anyone under 18 years old, but debit cards can be obtained by minors. Therefore, the debit card is particularly relevant to some of the issues that the amendments address. We need to be certain about the technicalities of when sales are completed and where the sale takes place when such cards are used over the telephone, the internet or through various other mechanisms.

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. We shall have to examine carefully any evidence that may arise. If problems transpire, we must be prepared to deal with them when we introduce legislation on licensing.

The most common source of alcohol for younger age groups is their parents. Illicit drinking outside the home usually involves the desire for instant gratification. Young people normally obtain alcohol directly in small purchases—one can or two—at off-licences. The amendments therefore would not benefit the current situation.

In addition, although there is little evidence of young people using the internet to obtain alcohol, there is a risk, if retailers fear prosecution for under-age sales, that accepting the amendments would inhibit the development of e-commerce. That could damage business but have no obvious benefit in tackling under-age consumption.

Ordering on the internet involves no instant gratification; delivery occurs some time later. We suspect that that is one reason why there is no evidence of such sales at the moment, but we are alive to any evidence that may present itself and prepared to deal with those issues in the longer term. Given such problems and uncertainties, and subject to my reassurance that the matters will be addressed in future reform, I urge hon. Members not to press their amendments.

Mr. Heald

There is obviously quite a bit of concern in the House on the question of internet sales and the use of credit cards. I of course accept the Minister's explanation that, as yet, there is no evidence of such sales in large numbers, but might the Home Office want to undertake some research into the matter?

Mr. O'Brien

We looked at many issues in the context of the White Paper and a research budget has been allocated for this financial year. That issue is certainly one that we will want to bear in mind. I suspect that the way in which to approach the matter is, first, to see what evidence arises as a result of consultation on the White Paper. If it transpires that issues do arise, we shall consider instituting specific research. Given the nature of the way in which young people use the internet, it is difficult to identify now how we might set up a research project, but if the police or other authorities say that there appears to be a problem, we shall consider how best to deal with it—that might well involve legislative provisions as part of a wider licensing Bill.

The amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston would change significantly the defence available to a licence holder or member of his staff who was prosecuted for selling alcohol to a person aged under 18. It would have to be proved that the offence had been committed knowingly, and the defences of having no reason to suspect that a person was a minor and of having shown due diligence in seeking to establish the age of a person would disappear. I remind the House of the purpose of the Bill: David Knowles, a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey, died in tragic circumstances following the consumption of alcohol purchased from an off-licence. The facts are not disputed, but, as we all know, those involved evaded prosecution because there is a loophole in the law. The Bill, as amended in Committee, would close that loophole. The House must ask itself whether, having closed it and so made prosecutions more likely in future, it wants to make it more difficult than it currently is to secure a conviction.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst wants to extend the offence of allowing alcohol to be sold to a minor to that of facilitating a sale—although, in the course of his exposition, he appeared to withdraw from that position to some extent. However, that would alter the whole thrust of that provision, which deals with those who have control or authority over others selling in licensed premises, and ensures that a manager or licensee cannot evade his responsibilities by turning a blind eye to his staff's actions: if they commit offences, he risks being prosecuted as well. The notion of facilitation offers a different perspective: how does a manager "facilitate" a person to sell? I am not sure that the prosecuting authorities or the courts would understand Parliament's intention if that wording were adopted. Without time to consult the Magistrates Association and practising layers, I am reluctant to support such an extension of the offence. I note that the right hon. Gentleman said that he would not press the amendment, and I am grateful to him for that. However, I can assure him that it is a matter that could be considered as part of the broader licensing review.

Although they deal with the offences and triggers for the available defences in new sections 169A(3) and 169B(1), the amendments proposed by my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) and for Dumfries return us to the question of the loophole in the law that has been exposed on many occasions during deliberations on the Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey. He set out the circumstances that led to the tragic death of the child in his constituency, which involved those employed by national chains of off-licences. However, there are other problems arising from the outdated wording.

The term "servant" in existing law does not encompass an agent acting on behalf of a licensee who is not his employee. Therefore, 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 to a 14-year-old girl was quashed in the divisional court, because there was no evidence of a master-servant relationship—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst laughs; he appears to be confused about the nature of the state of matrimony.

The House will know that many high street off-licences are family run, and it would be wrong if a licensee could evade prosecution by laying the responsibility for the sale on his or her spouse. As the wording chosen by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey covers every eventuality and so closes the loophole, I ask the House to support the original wording.

My hon. Friend the Member for Garston proposed an amendment that changes the offence set out in section 168B(1). The sale would have to be made knowingly, and there would be an alternative offence of being "recklessly indifferent" to sales made to under-18s. I have some concerns about the proposal. I am sure that my hon. Friend is familiar with the legal maxim that the state of a man's mind is as much a matter of fact as the state of his digestion. In other words, the state of a man's mind can be established by evidence in a court of law.

1.45 pm

The current offence is knowingly to allow a person to sell alcohol to a minor. That implies two things: the offender had the authority to prevent the sale and, knowing the purchaser to be under age, permitted the sale to take place. Those are simple concepts, well known to, and understood by, the courts.

The term "knowingly" occurs in other statutes. For example, I know from previous departmental responsibilities that it is an offence under immigration law knowingly to remain beyond the time limit attached to one's leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom. The concept of reckless indifference is less well known and less well understood.

I understand what my hon. Friend is trying to achieve and the advantages. The proposed wording would prevent the licence-holder from turning a blind eye to the actions of his staff. He may know that the sale is taking place, but choose to ignore it. He therefore neither allows nor prohibits the sale.

Before giving Government support to any such amendment, I would want to take advice from lawyers who were experienced in this area and from the Magistrates Association about how they would interpret that wording. It is not clear what evidence is required to establish recklessness or indifference. How easy would it be to mount a prosecution and what would be the convincing defences? I do not know the answer to those questions and, without a more detailed examination of the terminology, I must decline to give the Government's support to the amendment and ask my hon. Friend the Member for Garston not to press it.

I shall deal now with the use of the word "agent" and how it would trigger the defence in new section 169A(3). The terminology "employee or agent" is worrying. Would it mean the defendant's employee or, if the member of staff was the employee of a national chain, would the defence in new section 169A(3) not be available?

That takes us back to the troubled area that gave rise to the Bill. We must avoid any possible confusion. The wording "any person" is all-embracing and covers every eventuality. The change of definition in new section 169B(2) does not help in regard to our concerns, and I therefore ask that the amendment not be pressed.

I shall say a little more about the word "knowingly". The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire set out his view that that word was enormously important in new section 169B. I agree with his analysis. The contractual relationship is the key one. I hope that colleagues who are advancing the amendments will take account of the hon. Gentleman's point that "knowingly" is important in that section and is not necessary in new section 169A.

With regard to under-18s buying, or attempting to buy, alcohol, amendments have been proposed to extend that by adding the words "or otherwise obtain". The offence would still be confined to licensed premises and, under new section 169F(2), would apply to the delivery of alcohol sold in licensed premises. As I said earlier, I understand that under-18s cannot hold credit cards. We must deal with the issue with which we are presented. Suppose the 16-year-old son of a licensee asked his father whether he could have a can of beer from the stock to drink with his meal in the flat upstairs. Does he commit an offence under the expanded wording? That must be carefully considered; we have not yet had the opportunity to do that. I assure hon. Members that I shall examine that matter when considering general reform of the Licensing Act. However, I shall not accept the words "or otherwise obtain".

We do not have a problem with under-18s using credit cards. It is not an issue that we must tackle immediately. It is better to remain within the narrow and focused remit that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey proposed in the Bill.

Amendment No. 37, which my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) tabled, would extend proposed section 169E(1) to the whole of any licensed premises. That means that a minor would commit an offence if he or she drank a pint of beer in a family room or pub garden. The amendment's effect would therefore be enormously significant. The Government believe that the law must be clarified so that the consumption of alcohol anywhere on pub premises is clearly lawful where it is accepted but unlawful otherwise. However, amendment No. 37 would require the exception in new section 169D to be extended to 169E(1).

The balance between freer access to licensed premises by minors and tough laws to prevent under-age consumption on the premises needs to be examined in a broader context than the Bill. While I have some sympathy for the sentiments behind amendment No. 37, I should like the opportunity to get the balances right. In doing that, I want to consult the industry, the police and magistrates about the proposal before reaching a conclusion. I therefore ask my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East to consider not to press her amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North asked whether a Member of Parliament would commit an offence under proposed section 169F if he supplied a bottle to a raffle that was won by a minor. The question presupposes that the House is considered licensed premises, which it is not. The distinction between being a Member of the House and working here is a moot point, which might lead to some legal argument. We know that my hon. Friend works hard and we therefore give him the benefit of the doubt. However, he would have to have an opportunity to prevent the delivery of the raffle prize to the minor. My hon. Friend might well deliver the bottle to the charity or the fete, but he would subsequently have no authority to prevent the onward delivery of the bottle to the winning minor. It could therefore be argued that my hon. Friend had a probable defence against that difficulty. I hope that that relieves his anxiety.

Amendment No. 10, which my hon. Friend the Member for Garston tabled, would remove the word "knowingly" from the offence of allowing a person under 18 to consume alcohol in a bar and amendment No. 11 would substitute the defences that are in proposed section 169A(2) and (3) for that in proposed section 169E. There is no doubt that that would make it easier to secure a conviction. However, the offences in proposed sections 169A(1) and 169E(1) are fundamentally different.

Proposed section 169A(1) covers the sale of alcohol to a person under 18. That is wholly under the control of the retailer. If he does not know the age of the purchaser, he does not have to sell, if he takes a risk, he knows the potential penalty, including the risk to his licence. Proposed section 169E(1) covers allowing consumption by a minor in a bar. A bar is a specific area that is agreed by the licensing justices; it is almost certainly not the whole of the premises. Children aged 14 or over may be present in a bar area, although they may not consume alcohol. The youngsters' presence may be entirely legal.

In a crowded bar, an adult may purchase two drinks: a lemonade and a vodka and tonic. He or she may take the drinks to a table in the bar and give the vodka and tonic to a 16-year-old and keep the lemonade because he or she is driving. No direct transaction with the minor will have taken place. How does the licensee know what the clear liquid being drunk across the bar is? The landlord's criminal responsibility is often uncertain because of the great variety of circumstances that may surround under-age consumption. The offence is therefore not the same as a direct sale. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that a conviction would be hard to secure.

We do not want to create an offence that forces licensees to deny access to their pubs to anyone under 18, even if they are there to consume soft drinks with their parents. That would be the risk if the licensee felt vulnerable to unreasonable prosecution. It is a matter of getting the balance right. Such amendments would unbalance the legislation and produce unnecessary, perhaps socially undesirable, outcomes. We must think such matters through in the broader context. Again, I refer hon. Members to the White Paper. For those reasons, I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Garston to reconsider and not press the amendment.

My hon. Friend also wants to substitute "knowingly" for "recklessly" in new sections 169E(2) and 169G(1) of the 1964 Act. In the first instance, that would mean that a person working in a bar would commit an offence only if he recklessly allowed a person under 18 to consume alcohol. In the second, an adult who sent a child to buy alcohol would commit an offence only if he had acted recklessly.

I have already explained that the courts know and understand the word "knowingly", but establishing reckless behaviour certainly seems more obscure. I should prefer not to risk making a conviction less easy to secure by introducing terminology of uncertain effect. The term "reckless" would imply that sending a child to buy alcohol from an off-licence could somehow be reasonable and lawful. The issue is not the degree of reasonableness, but the extent of the person's knowledge. If he knows that he has sent a child to make the purchase, he has little or no defence open to him. If, as the result of a misunderstanding, the adult does not realise that that is what the child has gone to do for him, a defence is available. Recklessness is an altogether different animal. I am confident that the drafting would not cause problems. Therefore, I ask my hon. Friend not to press the amendment.

On amendment No. 53, which deals with the House of Commons, I understand that the House is exempt from the provisions of the 1964 Act by convention, because of the 1935 case Regina v. Graham-Campbell, ex parte Herbert, which makes it clear that licensing law does not apply to Parliament. It is not so odd or exceptional as it might appear that we are able to operate our own licensing procedures. Registered clubs, sports and social clubs and others already operate under somewhat different regimes from unlicensed premises. They operate with a registration certificate and their sales rules are different.

The hon. Member for Lichfield asked when Members of Parliament are subject to criminal law and when they are not. The purpose of amendment No. 53 is to bring the House within the legislation. The position is somewhat complex, but I understand that Members are fully liable for any offence committed outside this place. However, the House has privileges in respect of the exclusive cognisance of its procedure and proceedings, especially on freedom of speech. He would not be liable for what he said during proceedings, but he would be unwise to claim that a crime—other than one that relates to licensing or another specific exclusion—would not be prosecuted if committed in the precincts, because I suspect that the House would take the view that it should. Indeed, Lord Cochrane claimed privilege when he was arrested in the Chamber of the House of Commons in 1815, but his claim was rejected on the grounds that he had committed offences and was being properly arrested.

Mr. Fabricant

Was it the prerogative of the House to decide whether that person or anyone else could be arrested, or was the law such that he could be arrested whatever view the House took about it?

2 pm

Mr. O'Brien

If I remember correctly, the matter is set out at some length in "Erskine May" on page 70.

Mr. Heald

Page 74.

Mr. O'Brien

I thank the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Lichfield can study the matter in some depth. The issue is somewhat convoluted, but essentially the position is that a person may be arrested here. In the case to which I referred, Lord Cochrane was arrested in the Chamber, but the House was adjourned so it was not sitting at the time.

In 1987, the Privileges Committee decided that Members were not privileged solely on the ground that they were in the precincts of the House. In Bradlaugh v. Gosset in the 1880s, Judge Stephen said that he knew of no authority for the proposition that an ordinary crime committed in the House of Commons would be exempt from the course of criminal justice. He made an exemption of anything that was said, because it is clear that the House has decided that whatever is said during our proceedings and procedures is proper.

I reassure the hon. Member for Lichfield that, according to "Erskine May", apart from the case of Sir John Eliot in 1629, no charge has been brought against a Member of the House for an act committed while in Parliament. That should reassure us that we can run our affairs reasonably well, at least within the precincts of Parliament. That being said, it would be unwise for any MP to try to commit an offence.

Until now, the view of the House has been that Parliament should not be brought within the licensing laws. If we should decide to change that position, we should do so in the context of a broader debate about licensing law. The best approach is to allow the procedures of the House, the Committees and the usual channels to consider whether the licensing laws should be amended. I am sure that the Catering Committee would want to express a view, as would hon. Members. Until that debate is held, it would be better if my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North did not press amendment No. 53.

I have gone through each of the issues rather than each of the many amendments, some of which would do much the same thing. I have suggested that significant points should be dealt with in a broader context and in a wider debate. The effect of the amendments that raise narrower issues would not be in keeping with what this focused Bill seeks to achieve.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey has done the House a service by bringing this matter to our notice. He has worked hard to get the drafting of the Bill right. Many of the points that hon. Members have raised have been covered by him rather well. On that basis, I ask all hon. Members to support the Bill as drafted by my hon. Friend.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East)

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his remarks on the two amendments in my name. The Bill plugs the loophole in the law that exempted people from prosecution in the tragic case of David Knowles, but it also raises wider issues on our licensing laws. I am grateful to the Minister for referring to a future debate and possible legislation on our licensing laws, and we all look forward to that.

The report from the taskforce on under-age alcohol misuse was interesting, as those involved had talked to people aged between 10 and 17, who may be under-age drinkers. They were asked adult questions, such as if they drank alcohol, where was a safe place to do so. They said in a bus shelter, behind a building, in a car park, or on a recreation ground. To them, "safe" meant where police, parents and teachers would not see them, and they were exactly the kind of places that most adults would believe to be unsafe for children, especially if they were drinking alcohol.

The report says a lot about the attitudes of young people to drinking. The thrill or buzz that a lot of young people get from doing something unlawful should be borne in mind, and we need to move towards a more civilised approach to drinking generally. It is clearly proper for parents to introduce their children to alcohol sensibly at home, by means of a glass of wine with a meal, for example. However, we have a culture in this country—particularly with regard to boys and young men—which is often damaging to them. They see drinking as something that they must learn to do; they must learn to increase their capacity. If they can manage to drink a great many pints, they become men. They learn that from peer pressure.

The report was interesting on the subject of what young people drank, such as alcopops. The young people said that they did not drink alcopops but the industry suggests that those drinks are being sold to young people, mostly in their teens. However, the young people did not like drinking something that was meant for teenagers, and thought themselves more sophisticated than that.

I give maximum respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) for his hard work on the Bill in the wake of the tragedy to which he referred. As a legislature, we must find ways of preventing such an avoidable tragedy from being repeated.

Mr. Gardiner

Having listened carefully to the debate, and with deference to the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister, who pointed out that it was critical that the Bill should be closely defined, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

Maria Eagle

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 1, leave out lines 11 to 14.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 21, in page 1, line 13, leave out— 'had no reason to suspect that the person was under' and insert— 'believed the person to be over'. No. 7, in page 1, leave out lines 15 to 19.

No. 22, in page 1, line 17, leave out "some other person" and insert "an employee or agent".

No. 52, in page 1, line 19, at end insert— '(3A) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) of this section to show that the person under eighteen produced evidence at the time of sale purportedly showing him to be eighteen or over.'. No. 16, in page 1, line 28, at end insert— '(2A) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) of this section to prove that he had no reason to suspect that the person was under eighteen. (2B) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) of this section to prove that he exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence under that subsection.'. No. 33, in page 2, line 14, leave out— 'had no reason to suspect that the person was under' and insert— 'believed the person to be over'. No. 11, in page 2, line 36, at end insert— '(4) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (2) 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. (5) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (2) 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.'. No. 77, in page 3, line 33, at end insert— '169I. Without prejudice to any defence otherwise available under any provision of this Act, it shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 169A, 169B, 169C, 169E, 169F or 169G of this Act to prove—

  1. (a) that he had no reason to suspect that the person was under eighteen, or
  2. (b) that he exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence.'.

Maria Eagle

Given that this group of amendments was tied in with the first group, which we have discussed extensively, I shall do no more than move the amendment.

Mrs. Eileen Gordon (Romford)

I strongly support the Bill.

I want to talk about proof of age, which is mentioned in many of the amendments. I want to set the matter in the context of the particular situation in my community. Six or seven years ago, South street in Romford was practically derelict. Shops were boarded up and it was an awful place to walk. Now it has been revitalised by a large number of clubs and pubs. As well as bringing new life to the area, they have brought some problems, mainly involving the large influx of young people at evenings and weekends. One of the problems is under-age drinking in Romford town centre.

The pubs and clubs are on the whole parts of large, well-known chains. They have respectable management and do what they can to ensure that there is no under-age drinking, but—my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) alluded to this—many young people see drinking as a rite of passage into adulthood. They see it as a challenge to get into pubs and clubs that they are not supposed to be in. For 16-year-olds it is a big badge of achievement to get into an over-18s club.

There are problems of monitoring who goes into the pubs and clubs and who consumes alcohol. A lot has been done. I have talked to my local licensing officer about how the problem is dealt with. All licensees are instructed by police in the London borough of Havering on the forms of proof of age and identification that are acceptable. Unfortunately, there are many forgeries in circulation. However much I admire the Portman Group and its "Prove It" card, it has become discredited in our area because of all the forgeries. The police consider that in Havering, which includes Romford town centre, the only acceptable forms of identification are passports and the new style of driving licence with a photograph on it.

I would not like to go out in the evening carrying my passport. My two children are just out of their teenage years. I cannot imagine my daughter, with her evening dress on and a tiny purse, wanting to carry a passport. Many young people are in the town centre without proof of identity.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green)

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a classic opportunity for the retailers and the rest of the industry to take up the suggestion from the ministerial group on alcopops and produce a universally acceptable card?

Mrs. Gordon

Yes, certainly. I intended to mention that later. There is a proliferation of proof-of-age cards. I am sure that they all stem from worthy motives but they are all different and have different levels of security built in. For instance, the citizen card is very good—it is like a credit card and has a photograph sealed in, as opposed to one that is merely stuck on and can easily be peeled off and replaced.

2.15 pm

At weekends, the clubs in Romford allow in only people who are over 20. People aged 16 look like those aged 18, but it is easier to distinguish people over 20. The clubs are very worried about the problem of under-age drinking and are as diligent and vigilant as they can be. However, in the first quarter of this year three juveniles were arrested for being drunk and disorderly in Romford town centre. There were also 24 other arrests of juveniles for various offences—such as public order offences—that the police considered to be alcohol-related. Eight cases involved assault, but it is worth noting that 157 adults were arrested in the same period.

I regret that the Bill does not include a proposal for a national proof-of-age card. I know that that is what the police in Romford want. I believe that a national card that is universally acceptable would give bar staff the reassurance that they need. Until it is available, there will always be a problem with under-age drinkers.

Mr. Forth

Does not the hon. Lady agree with the Minister and me that the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) has succeeded so well with his Bill—after all, he has persuaded many of us not to press our amendments—because he has not tried to put too much into it? Had he done otherwise, his purpose would have been jeopardised. Does not hon. Lady agree that the hon. Gentleman has been sensible and skilful in fashioning the Bill so that it does the limited job that he wants it to perform without introducing the extra baggage that might have put it at risk? Might not that be the reason why the Bill lacks the provision that the hon. Lady describes?

Mrs. Gordon

I agree that the Bill has been designed, and refined, so that it will reach the statute book. However, I suppose that I am really addressing my remarks to my hon. Friend the Minister, in the hope that the Government will look at the issue of national proof-of-age cards. Such a scheme might be administered through schools and colleges, as people are clearly most vulnerable to under-age drinking between 16 and 18. Many schools in my area are trying to get involved with citizen cards and "Prove It" cards, which provide security to young people and reassure their parents too.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) has tabled amendment No. 52, which would provide a protection for staff in clubs and off-licences if they could prove that they had asked for some form of identification. However, I fear that that could be a bureaucratic nightmare. Anyone who has been in the centre of Romford on a Friday or Saturday night—I go there sometimes as a matter of research—would agree that implementing the proposal would be impossible, given the huge numbers of people enjoying themselves in the bars and clubs. I do not think that staff would be able to cope with the requirement to ask for identification.

What we need is a clear, easily identifiable and universally recognised card. As a matter of routine, staff should always check young people. Such a card would be shown as a matter of course, as one would show a bus pass. Students who do not show their bus passes do not get their concessionary fares—no pass, no bus ride. Proof-of-age cards would work in the same way—no card, no drink.

Mr. Keith Darvill (Upminster)

Amendment No. 52 would make an important improvement to the Bill and help to make it a better balanced piece of legislation. I understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) and, indeed, by others, about not moving the Bill too far. However, we should try and get the balance right in the Bill, and it is useful for the House to debate such a balance. It has been a balanced debate all round, and, as such, a worthwhile one.

The Bill replaces the ineffective elements of section 169 of the Licensing Act 1964 and closes the loophole revealed by the Russell case in 1997, which was referred to extensively on Second Reading. Section 169 of the 1964 Act provides that where the person charged with an offence of selling intoxicating liquor to a person under 18 is the licence holder, and he is charged by reason of the act or default of some other person, it shall be a defence for him to prove that he has exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence under the Act. I believe that the 1964 Act and this Bill could go a little further because of the possible mischief that could be caused by forged or false identification in cases in which licensees and their staff act with due diligence.

Under the existing law, in one case in which an employee operated a good system devised by his employer for the avoidance of the sale of alcohol to young persons, and was acting in a specific sale under the instructions of a more senior employee, the court held that in the absence of any evidence that the purchaser was clearly under age, or that the identification produced was forged, no reasonable tribunal could find that the vendor had failed to exercise due diligence. It would be helpful to specify the interpretation of the existing law and to know whether that interpretation was embodied in the Bill. That is why I tabled my amendment.

The amendment would help licensees and encourage more regular checking of identification in licensed premises. In the light of earlier speeches, right hon. and hon. Members may believe that the amendment is unnecessary. I shall not be pressing it to a vote, but it is useful to debate it.

My view is reinforced by the evidence in the report of the under-18 panel meetings of the taskforce, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) referred a few moments ago. I think that that evidence is relevant to my amendment and to others in this group.

The taskforce evidence, gathered after a thorough investigation, is compelling in that it illustrates how determined young people are, particularly those at risk, to target what the report refers to as safe places. One of the most important findings to emerge from the discussion of what is a safe place to drink was that the panellists giving evidence interpreted "safe" as a place where they were less likely to be caught by police or parents, rather than the conventional definition of "safe" as being away from harm and danger. They referred to back streets, the back of buildings, parks, bus stops and public toilets. We all know of areas in our constituencies where young people drink; it results not only in the sort of serious consequences that drove my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey to promote the Bill, but leads to anti-social behaviour, which the Bill addresses.

Clearly young people under 18 have obtained intoxicating liquor from some establishments. In some cases, over-18s may purchase for younger people, but many younger people buy for themselves. That is the mischief that the Bill attempts to address by ensuring that there is a culture of awareness and checking, and a system of identification, which the amendment would provide.

Mr. Mike O'Brien

My hon. Friends the Members for Romford (Mrs. Gordon) and for Upminster (Mr. Darvill) have raised important points, particularly on the method of proving age. I was concerned to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Romford say that forgeries of the Portman card are a problem. Likewise, I was worried to hear that police officers in her area can accept only driving licences or passports as proof of age.

The issues raised by both my hon. Friends should be part of a wider debate on licensing reform this year and next as legislation is introduced. I shall seek to include their comments in the Government's broader consideration, and the issues that they have raised will be duly weighed and considered.

The Bill is tightly focused, and I shall wish it to remain so. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) will feel able to withdraw the amendment on that basis.

Maria Eagle

In view of those assurances and the good will towards the Bill throughout the House, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

2.27 pm
Mr. Truswell

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank all Members who have participated in the debate today and in Committee and on Second Reading. The quality of debate at each stage has been exemplary. It has demonstrated to many people, as well as my constituents, how well we can discuss issues on which there is not necessarily any party political dimension. I thank all the hon. Members who have assisted me, from both sides. I repeat what was said by the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell)—on this Bill, we have all been right hon. and hon. Friends, not simply Members of Parliament.

I thank the Minister for his kind assistance, and Andrew Cunningham, a Home Office official, for his many words of advice. On occasion during the various debates, it has been suggested that this is a Government Bill. The implication has been that it was handed out to me. I can assure hon. Members who may nurture those suspicions that that simply is not so. Members aware of my record over the two and a half years in which I have been pursuing the matter will know that to be true. I can confirm that Government support was forthcoming only after the formal First Reading. Since then, it has been forthcoming from both sides of the House, and I am delighted that we have reached Third Reading. I am not complacent. There is still time for more debate on the Bill and I am aware that hon. Members want to make contributions and comments.

I am equally delighted that Members, despite the discussions on various issues that impinge—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 9 June.

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