HC Deb 24 March 2003 vol 402 cc11-2
5. Andy Burnham (Leigh)

What recent advice he has given to police forces regarding confiscation of alcohol from under-age drinkers. [104111]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

The Licensing Bill now before Parliament will, if it is enacted, amend existing legislation to allow the police to confiscate all alcohol, including sealed and opened containers, from young people who are drinking in public places. Guidance will be issued on the extended power before its commencement.

Andy Burnham

May I tell the Minister that many of my constituents are sick and tired of waking up to smashed bus shelters on a Saturday morning and to the other hallmarks of an under-age drinking spree? I welcome the measures introduced in the Licensing Bill, but may I ask him to urge all police forces in England—especially the Greater Manchester police—to make full use of the new powers that are being given to them? May I further ask him to look carefully at what more can be done to clamp down on off-licences that knowingly and persistently sell to under-18s?

Mr. Ainsworth

I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who I know has campaigned long and hard for the Licensing Bill and other measures seeking to bear down on the problem of under-age drinking and some of the problems that flow from it. He will be aware that in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, we strengthened the law to place a clear duty on retailers to take positive steps to ensure that their customers were over 18, and also placed test purchasing on a statutory footing. We are as committed as he has been over a long period to clamping down on under-age drinking and the antisocial behaviour that sometimes goes with it.

Bob Spink (Castle Point)

But the police did have the power to remove alcohol from under-age drinkers until the Government removed it in 2001. Will the Minister explain why the Government removed the power? When the power is returned to the police, will he ensure that they will have the power to remove cans of alcohol—whether open or not—held by people over 18 who might supply them to people under 18? My original private Member's Bill gave the police that power.

Mr. Ainsworth

The measures in tie Licensing Bill will do precisely that. I have listened to the hon. Gentleman continue to campaign for something that he knows to be on its way, agreed to and making legislative progress, so I congratulate him on his political opportunism.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

While I welcome the measures inherent in the Bill, could more be done if the Government approached the alcohol and brewing industries and asked them to be infinitely more selective with their advertising? In many instances, such advertising blurs the line between drinks suitable for those above the legal age of drinking and drinks suitable for those below it.

Mr. Ainsworth

My hon. Friend is right that much could be done by the industry. Regular meetings are held between the industry and Ministers and we try to work with it to improve the code of practice that applies to advertising. Some progress has been made through our direct contact with organisations such as the Portman Group, but I do not pretend that the situation is nearly as good as it could be. I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to encourage the industry to advertise responsibly.