HL Deb 16 June 1988 vol 498 cc435-43

7.7 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Noble Lords who follow such matters will be aware that the Bill was piloted through another place by Mr. Andrew Mackay. I have the pleasure and privilege of carrying out the same task in your Lordships' House. It will have been noted that, although there were vigorous discussions and changes to the Bill in another place, it was finally given full approval by all sides of the House. That applies especially to the Home Office Minister, the honourable Douglas Hogg, who made many helpful suggestions. I should like to place on record my gratitude and that of others to him for his attitude on this matter.

The Bill's main purpose is to bring under the licensing regime the sale of alcohol from the backs of lorries and other similar points of sale. The significant aim of the Bill is that all sales of alcohol should be treated as retail sales, and thus are subject to the licensing laws, unless they fall within the scope of the exemptions set out in Clause 1. Paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of Clause 1(1) prescribe various exemptive sales, whereas paragraph (e) deals with quantity. If the nature of the transaction is such that it falls within paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d), or if the quantity falls within paragraph (e), it is an exempted quantity or sale. Paragraphs (a) to (d) are probably what most people would describe as wholesale transactions—that is to say, a sale to another trader for the purpose of his trade, a sale to a registered club for the purpose of the club, a sale to a canteen or mess or a sale to the holder of an occupational permission. Each such transaction is properly regarded as a wholesale transaction to which it would not be right to apply the full rigour of the licensing laws.

Paragraph (e) deals with quantity, to exclude what is defined as wholesale quantity from the full rigours of the licensing laws. It was added in another place and protects genuine wholesalers dealing in substantial quantities provided that they trade from their ordinary business premises as defined in the Bill. The exemption was understandable and won support in another place.

Wholesale sales of intoxicating liquor to or by persons under the age of 18 on wholesale premises are covered by the provisions in Clause 17 of the Licensing Bill. It is an offence for a wholesaler thus defined to sell intoxicating liquor to a person under the age of 18. Moreover, it is an offence for a wholesaler to allow a person under the age of 18 to make a sale of intoxicating liquor unless that sale has been specifically approved by the wholesaler or by a person over the age of 18 acting on his behalf.

I should like the House to note that in particular the Bill tackles the dreadful problem of under-age drinking. I do not believe that there is a noble Lord who has not discussed with anxious parents, social workers, teachers or other interested parties the problems of school children consuming large quantities of alcohol. I have carried out research—and quite clearly one reads the proceedings of this Bill in another place with interest—and have read some of the illustrations, which are not hypothetical, of the situation that were drawn to the attention of the Committee, and it is very distressing indeed. If this Bill even remotely helps to deal with some of those problems I believe it will be a very good thing indeed.

I ask the House to take on board what Mr. Dafydd Wigley said in Committee in another place. He quoted from the Western Mail of 9th October: Almost 4,000 11-year-old schoolboys in Wales have been drunk at least twice during their first year at secondary school. In some areas 12-year-old children regard themselves as regular drinkers and some teenagers frequently drink more than 25 pints of beer a week. Latest figures contained in a special investigation by the Press Association show that Wales is becoming the booziest area of the UK, with problems already far worse than England's". Knowledge of the extent to which children can purchase liquor came to me as a bolt out of the blue, as it would all right-minded parents and citizens.

Perhaps I may ask the Committee—

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not wish to be pedantic but this is a Second Reading debate and therefore this is the House.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, I apologise. I stand corrected and suitably chastened. Perhaps I may ask the House whether it will take note of the fact that some of those young people have been able to obtain liquor in a manner which, while it may not have been illegal, was certainly reprehensible. I am told that one company hires space at an easily identifiable venue—for instance, a cricket or football ground or a hotel on a Sunday morning— and extensively advertises a wine club to which membership is free. These meetings command considerable support. I am told that direct supply is another route whereby alcohol can be obtained by young people. Advertisements are placed in local newspapers giving the temporary telephone number and venue of the vendor's visiting representative. Inquiries lead to delivery and supply. Sale or return is an established trade technique and is now beginning to appear in conjunction with each of the examples I have given.

Representatives have established regular rounds of visits calling, for example, every Tuesday evening. Although purporting to deliver orders taken previously, the quantities on their vehicles usually fail to tally with advice notes. I am certain that the Minister and others who may speak are well aware of some of these avenues whereby sales are obtained.

However, your Lordships' House is indebted to the report of the Working Group on Young People and Alcohol which was chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. This was a report commissioned by the Home Office, by the Standing Conference on Crime Prevention. It was a very good report indeed which laid before us a horrifying situation. Perhaps I may very quickly indicate to the House some of its findings in substance. It stated: —there is evidence of regular, often illegal, drinking of alcohol by adolescents; —it is not possible to prove a causal link between the consumption of alcohol and crime in general; —there is a strong association between intoxication and certain crimes of violence and disorder, and that there is by definition a link between intoxication and offences of drunkenness and drink-driving; —that young people (particularly young men) are especially implicated in these types of crime, and are the heaviest drinkers, mainly drinking beer: —that the law regulating the consumption of alcohol by those under 18 is complicated, anomalous, and widely flouted". Many of us have watched with absolute horror what some young people under the age of 18 have been getting up to in Germany in the last few days. However, that was the latest incident of a series of incidents where alcohol can be seen to be the root of the problem.

We are absolutely horrified by the statistics. The report of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, also told us that there is no evidence collated about the extent of drinking by young people. For example, it shows that under a heading: Have had a 'proper drink' (i.e. a substantial measure of an alcoholic drink)". The number of 13 year-olds in England and Wales was 82 per cent., the number of 14 year-olds was 88 per cent., the number of 15 year-olds was 92 per cent., the number of 16 year-olds was 91 per cent. and the number of 17 year-olds was 92 per cent.

Of the same group who usually had an alcoholic drink at least once a week the number of 13 year-olds was 29 per cent. and the number of 14 year-olds was 34 per cent. The House is entitled to wonder where they drink and if they are drinking in unlicensed premises. Sadly most of them indicate that they drink at home. That is where most young people are drinking. I simply wish to emphasise the importance of the home in early drinking of alcohol and the extent to which home drinking is under adult supervision.

The purpose of this modest amendment to the law is to seek to close some of the loopholes whereby alcohol has been made more freely available than Members of your Lordships' House would wish. When I make inquiries examples I am given are that people come to a pop festival or carnival and make alcohol available off the back of a lorry. That is one method and there are many more. The reputable trader is as horrified as Members of your Lordships' House at the continuing damage and the danger that alcohol can cause especially to young people. The law has been flouted to some extent. The measure that I bring before the House has the full approval of the British Independent Grocers' Association, the British Retailers' Association, the Retail Consortium and many other reputable organisations.

Perhaps I may refer to a point that was raised more than once in another place as regards accessibility to alcohol illegally at one-day markets or markets in general. The overwhelming majority of markets in this country are organised by highly reputable local authorities and others are organised by private operators who are also highly reputable. Market traders are highly reputable, especially those who are members of the National Market Traders' Federation. They would be as horrified as anyone if any of their members were engaged in the kind of activity which has been drawn to our attention. They have as much to gain as anyone else by operating within the law and not offending good public order and taste.

I very much hope that the Minister will say some kind words about the speed at which the Bill may progress through this place.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Graham of Edmonton.)

7.21 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, we on these Benches welcome this albeit modest Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, has put before the House. Modest though it is, it is a most important Bill because it closes yet another loophole in the law as regards the definition of what is a wholesale sale and what is a retail sale of alcohol. One has to view this Bill against a sad background in this country. It is a sad commentary on British life that a section of British youth seems determined to use a large proportion of its disposable income in buying alcohol not simply for eventual consumption but for immediate consumption. More often than not, that leads to intoxication, with alarming results. Those results are very evident on a bank holiday, for example.

On a recent bank holiday I went to a quiet cathedral town not 50 miles from London. I was staying with friends and on two of the evenings over the bank holiday weekend I saw scenes in the centre of the town that were indescribable. I saw hordes of youths coming out of pubs, and presumably that is where they got their alcohol on this occasion. The town in question has a lot of pubs. Their behaviour was at best rowdy and inconvenient to any members of the public who happened to be passing. At worst, it was disgusting. It was a parade of vomiting, rudeness and surly, aggressive behaviour.

If one reads the report of the Association of Chief Police Officers which was released recently, one sees that this is the pattern over a great deal of the country at the moment, particularly in the south of England. I do not know whether this is a commentary on the dark side of our new prosperity, which has brought a great deal of affluence to young people, who are unfortunately using it in this way.

It is a sad commentary that we have to talk through Bills of this kind when we are shortly to go into the European Community. Many other countries in that Community conduct themselves in a much better way as regards alcohol. For example, one does not see in Italy, France or Spain young people drinking quickly—in this country it is mostly beer of high strength—with the sole intention of getting drunk quickly and then behaving in a manner which is becoming increasingly alarming to the public at large.

Against this worsening situation, it is a happy event to see a Bill which seeks to make it more difficult for people who are not responsible purveyors of alcohol to ply their trade in places where young people gather; namely, at football matches, carnivals, sporting events, and in places of this kind. Drink may be obtained from the back of a lorry or at a stall. Ostensibly, it is sold wholesale and it makes it far too easy for young people to obtain drink. When I say "young people", I refer to those who are below the age at which they may legally purchase alcohol. Many of the purveyors who work from these kinds of places are not too concerned whether they break the law.

I should like to see this Bill taken further. I am considering tabling an amendment to provide that there should be some area or distance from the point of a sale of this kind within which it is illegal to consume alcohol having bought it wholesale. The amendment would try to make it more difficult for people to buy alcohol wholesale. Young people are quite at liberty to go behind a wall and put together their money and then send along one of their number to buy alcohol. It will be perfectly within the scope of this Bill, when it is enacted, for one of a group of young people to buy a case of beer and then to return behind a wall and consume it with his fellows who have shared in the cost.

To expect the police to watch out and catch people in the act of consumption of alcohol in this way is putting additional strain upon them. I know that the police are most concerned at the alarming increase in drinking by the youth of this country. The Home Office committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, criticised the attitude of the Advertising Standards Authority. I was personally dismayed at its attitude, which was also criticised by the committee for the lax way in which it interpreted the standards which it is supposed to police. I believe advertising is damaging when it is on the borderline of being legal and advertises drink as being attractive to young people, making them sexually attractive or more masculine, in the case of men.

This Bill will not change the attitude which brings about this problem but I hope it will go some way to countering its effects. We welcome the Bill and I believe that your Lordships will all welcome its simple proposition. With recent legislation and a new approach by the police and the public at large, I hope there will be a gradual growth in understanding of the dangers of increasing drinking by young people and of the effects of intoxication.

I do not believe there will be an immediate improvement as the noble Lord, Lord Graham, said. Those of us who watch television saw scenes which showed what young people are capable of when they go abroad to support their teams at overseas football matches. This has really brought the attention of the public at large to a very grave and worsening problem. It behoves us in this House, and it behoves everybody in a position of responsibility, to do his utmost to see that this problem does not grow any worse. We therefore welcome this legislation wholeheartedly.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton for the lucid and, if I may say so, very sober way in which he introduced the Second Reading of this important little Bill. The Bill states in one short sentence at the very top of the first page what its object is. It is: An act to amend the definition of 'sale by retail' in section 201 of the Licensing Act 1964". It may be necessary in just a few moments, which is all that I intend to take of the time of the House, to look at the whole question of drinking by those under the age of 18 years.

In case anybody thinks that the Bill is incomplete in the way it deals with that problem, which has been so eloquently discussed by previous speakers, the Licensing Bill as it was, now the Licensing Act, which received Royal Assent on 19th May—very recently indeed—provides that youngsters under the age of 18 shall no longer be able to obtain legally drink from wholesalers, from off-licences and indeed from supermarkets.

But there was a gap. And this little Bill fills the gap. I hope your Lordships will forgive my terminology. I believe however it properly describes the people of whom I am thinking. The Bill stops the spivs from selling alcoholic drinks to young folk under the age of 18 off the back of lorries, and places like that, when there are funfairs or other similar activities going on. That is a very useful thing to have done. I believe this House owes a debt of gratitude to the honourable Member for Berkshire, East for having used his opportunity to introduce this Bill and take it through the Commons. Now, as my noble friend Lord Graham as said, it is a privilege for him to move its Second Reading in this House and for those of us on this side to support it.

7.33 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for taking up this Bill and for bringing it forward for the consideraton of your Lordships this evening. Although the Government's attitude is one of neutrality to the Bill, I hope that it will not be out of place for me to say that I think that it will prove another useful albeit minor weapon against alcohol misuse, and that it will complement the recent Licensing Act 1988.

The Bill seeks to amend the definition of those sales of alcohol which require the authority of a justices' licence and it will, I hope, simplify and clarify this technical part of the law. Quite sensibly in my view, the Bill will not require a justices' licence to be in force in order to permit the sale of alcohol to those whose business it is to sell or supply alcohol either to fellow traders or to members of the public.

The significant provision of the Bill is perhaps its reference to sales of alcohol in wholesale quantities to members of the public. Your Lordships may be aware that the sale of a case of wine or spirits can be made by anyone, anywhere, without the need for a justices' licence. Most transactions of this kind will take place perfectly respectably from establised premises such as wine warehouses, but they can also take place, as has been explained this evening and—I am hound to say that it came as a great surprise to me on discovering the purpose of the Bill—from the backs of lorries or at one-day fairs. Whatever the circumstances, provided that the minimum quantities are observed the provisions of the licensing law do not apply.

The effect of the Bill will be to allow the established wholesaler who operates from permanent premises to continue to trade with the public without a justices' licence, so long as the quantities which are involved are not less than one case of wine or spirits or two cases of beer or cider. But it will no longer be possible for itinerant operators to escape the net of the law, and it is in that respect that the Bill strengthens the controls available under the 1964 Licensing Act.

We have thought long and hard about the apparent anomaly in the licensing law whereby a person selling small quantities of alcohol is subejct to detailed controls whereas the wholesale dealer can operate more freely. Indeed, we considered the possibility of requiring all wholesale operators to hold justices' licences and thereby become subject to the panoply of the licensing regime.

We concluded that this could not be justified for most circumstances. Wholesale purchases from wine warehouses tend to be planned transactions and those likely to misuse alcohol are unlikely, on the whole, to buy their wares from established wholesalers. A detailed licensing system is therefore inappropriate for such outlets.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, drew particular attention to the problems of under-age drinking, as indeed did the noble Viscount. Lord Falkland, and the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. I think that we are all rightly concerned about the growing problem and evidence of under-age drinking, and for that reason we included specific provisions in the new Licensing Act. Those will make it an offence for the holder of an off-licence, a wholesaler or his staff to sell alcohol from his premises to a person who is under the age of 18 and to fail to supervise effectively any sales by younger members of his staff. In addition, it becomes an offence for a young person to buy or attempt to buy alcohol in wholesale quantities on wholesale premises. The new Act will therefore bring established wholesalers into line with off-licensed outlets so far as under-age sales are concerned.

The new provisions will not, though, apply to those wholesalers who operate from temporary stalls or from vehicles. The Bill before us will close that loophole. If it proceeds to the statute book, the Bill will make it an offence for those who sell to the public—in whatever quantities—to do so without a licence if they sell from anywhere but permanent premises. I believe that this measure, modest as it is in scope, will serve a useful purpose both in simplifying the present law and in removing a potential opportunity for alcohol misuse.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, asked whether I would say something about the speed with which the Bill could pass through your Lordships' House. That would not be for me to do; it would be up to your Lordships. I rather fancy however that if it proceeds as quickly as it has this evening it will not have a very great deal of trouble. I have tried to contribute in that respect by making a speech which is rather shorter than I might otherwise have intended, though substantially longer than the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.

7.39 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the noble Earl the Minister has made a majestic speech covering one of the major aspects with which the Bill deals. I refer to the wine warehouse which now has a legality. The other people who are selling in wholesale quantities from the kind of places that we have talked about will be caught by the law. I am very grateful indeed to the Minister for filling in a number of gaps which I might fairly have spelled out.

Although the Minister is perfectly right in saying that it is a Private Member's Bill, I have deduced from the words used by the noble Earl's ministerial colleague in another place and from correspondence I have seen between others and the Minister that there is goodwill all round.

At the end of the day we still have the problem of enforcement. And we still have the problem of attitudes. Very little that the law can do will instil into parents what you and I would call parental responsibility. There is very little that the Minister and his colleagues can do that will encourage those who are determined to break the law to desist from doing so.

My noble friend Lord Mishcon properly drew attention to the fact that the Licensing Bill had a tiny loophole which this Bill seeks to fill. I understand that even that loophole might have been filled by the Licensing Bill but that there were problems. This Private Member's Bill will, I hope, complete in 1988 one small additional weapon that society and the law will have provided to try to obviate the tragedies that come from too early drinking and too heavy drinking. I beg to move.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.5 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.42 p.m. to 8.5 p.m.]