HL Deb 24 February 1988 vol 493 cc1203-5

3.8 p.m.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what measures are being taken to counter under-age drinking.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Licensing Bill, which we debated last week on its Second Reading, contains provisions in respect of on-licensed, off-licensed and wholesale premises which strengthen the law prohibiting the sale of alcohol to people under 18. By putting greater responsibility on licensees and their staff we anticipate that it will become more difficult for young people to purchase alcohol. In addition to these changes in the law, the ministerial group under the chairmanship of the Lord President recently agreed a package of measures directed at drinking by young people generally.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that full and interesting Answer. Will he be good enough to tell the House why the Government have not made it an absolute offence to sell liquor to someone under 18?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the proposed change in the law is intended to make licensees take their responsibilities seriously in this area. The Government recognise the difficulties which a licensee can face in determining beyond any doubt that a customer is over 18, particularly if that customer is intent on deceiving him. In these circumstances it would be unreasonable to penalise conscientious licensees.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that some television programmes encourage young people to drink? In fact in the most popular one "Coronation Street", nearly all the characters spend most of their lives in the Rover's Return. Does this not encourage young people to drink?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I regret that I have not been to the Rover's Return but, equally I am aware that there are many other television programmes in which alcohol also appears.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that among ethnic groups there are drink-related problems? Will the Government help them in that regard by providing counselling services, because it can be a serious inner-city problem?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the Alcohol and Research Council has been asked to undertake research into the needs of ethnic communities. The working group's report suggests that more information is needed about the matter and the ministerial group decided that it would be best to start there.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, in fairness to the average publican, how can he tell whether a person is over or under the age of 18 unless he produces a birth certificate?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I do not believe that it would be right that the publican should produce a certificate. I believe that it would be fairly obvious if the person were of an age to drink—that is, over 18 years of age.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the question of frequent television advertisements arises in addition to television programmes? The Government have banned cigarette and tobacco advertising; should they not consider banning alcohol advertising?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, research has been carried out into the effects of a total ban. The main evidence comes from a study undertaken following a ban on alcohol advertising in British Colombia. It showed that the ban had had no significant effect on consumption. Other research into the likely effect of bans and restrictions has reached similar conclusions.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if supermarkets were to sell alcohol on shelves outside the main cash desk, as some already do, there would not be so great a crush and it would be easier to check on those buying the alcohol?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I take note of what the noble Lady says about that matter.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, can the Government persuade the manufacturers of non-alcoholic lager to keep down the price and not price it so that young people cannot afford to buy it?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, with respect, I believe that that is a matter for the pricing structure of the manufacturer.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does the noble Lord remember how many Members of your Lordships' House were guilty of drinking under age?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I think that it would be preferable if I did not give too much thought to that question.