HL Deb 29 April 2002 vol 634 cc447-9
Baroness Gardner of Parkes

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they support the British Retail Consortium's efforts to introduce a nationally recognisable PASS (Proof of Age Standards Scheme) for use by those aged 12 and over.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker)

My Lords, the Government welcome the British Retail Consortium's proposals and congratulate it on the steps it is taking to help retailers to comply with the law. We have held very positive discussions with the British Retail Consortium about how its scheme would work in practice. In giving our full endorsement we would need to be satisfied that acceptable standards were in place to check the age of an applicant and that the British Retail Consortium would put in place procedures to ensure that those standards would be applied to all cards in the scheme. Any scheme would also need to be self-financing. The British Retail Consortium is aware of our views and I am confident that it will be able to satisfy them.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that satisfactory reply. It would be marvellous to have a national scheme. Does the Minister agree that in the past one of the difficulties has been that although a number of card schemes existed for proof of age they were not recognised in various parts of the country? A scheme produced in Essex might not be acceptable in Northamptonshire. I mention that as an example. I know nothing of the practice in those counties. Do the Government believe that it is important to have a hologram or a photograph on the cards? The British Retail Consortium considers that to be necessary.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, as regards the latter part of the noble Baroness's supplementary question, I understand that the proof of age industry steering group will meet tomorrow, 30th April, to finalise he details of the scheme. We shall then have a better idea of the scheme. However, I understand that the cards will conform to all the normal criteria as regards date of birth and will probably include a photograph and a hologram. As to the first part of the supplementary question, it is crucial to have a national standard and a national logo on all cards. Such a measure would be beneficial. At present some local authorities produce cards which are not acceptable in other parts of the country. There are many age-related limits regarding what young people can or cannot do. I refer to age-related limits applying at the ages of five, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 21. Therefore, there is a need for a proof of age card that can be used nationally. The BRC is going in the right direction.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, why do we not just go the whole hog and introduce the national identity card scheme which a majority of the people of this country actually want?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, there are two reasons why we cannot do that. The first concerns time. The BRC initiative could be up and running quickly once it is accepted as an accredited system. As regards an identity card system, these days the Home Office calls that the entitlement card. As I said, the Government will produce a large consultation paper before the Summer Recess with a long consultation period to follow. I cannot be precise about that period but it will be rather longer than normal. If legislation were to follow, it would take one or two years or longer. The delay involved would be a factor to be taken into account. A stand-alone proof of age card would be useful for young people who may not always want to carry an entitlement card, particularly if it is part and parcel of a passport or a driving licence. A stand-alone proof of age card would have many uses.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that under no circumstances would I carry or even apply for a proof of age card? Is this not a case of the bossy boots nanny state with a card stating that one is five, 12, 14, 18 or 21? Cannot we get on with our lives without holograms and dates of birth? It is Nineteen Eighty-Four gone mad.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, the noble Earl's question proves that he belongs to a bygone age.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, welcome though the British Retail Consortium's proposals are, and reassuring though it is that the measure, once agreed, could be introduced quickly, to refer to the Minister's qualification, is it not somewhat humiliating that the British Retail Consortium can act quicker than the Government, given all the powers and authority that the Government possess?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, the noble Lord confuses the position. The British Retail Consortium seeks to accredit on a national basis all the cards that exist at the present time. I refer, for example, to the successful operation of the cards of the Portman Group on behalf of the alcohol and brewing industry and other cards that already exist. The British Retail Consortium wishes to have a nationally accepted logo on cards to enable a retailer or service provider in one part of the country to accept a card produced by a local authority elsewhere as the BRC PASSlogo is implanted in it. That would make compliance with the law much easier. It is not a matter of introducing a new card, rather it is a national accreditation system for existing cards.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, does the Minister accept that a substantial number of the shops we are discussing are owned by people from ethnic minorities? Will he consider discussing with the British Retail Consortium the need to have the relevant information in various languages to ensure that the staff who serve in those retail outlets understand their obligations under the law?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I never experienced any difficulty in my former constituency as regards proof of age cards among corner shop licensees and newsagents who sold tobacco. Those shops are the bedrock of this country and many of them are owned and managed by members of the Asian community. I saw notices regarding providing proof of age pinned to the backs of tills. It is clear that such a system must take account of all shades of opinion and language issues. However, by and large, we are talking about proof of age. That matter should be fairly easy to accommodate.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the statement he made will be warmly welcomed by all those involved in any form of retailing? Will he confirm that at the moment it is illegal to purchase fireworks under the age of 18, airguns and pellets under the age of 17, petrol under the age of 16 and video and computer games under the age of 12? Does the Minister accept that retailers in general have done a great job in the difficult area of policing and monitoring the law and that a measure such as that proposed by the BRC would not only help the country but would also be of considerable assistance in enabling those involved in retailing to keep within the law?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. This is a matter of serious proportions. However, if I were to read out some of the requirements involving age-related limits about what one can and cannot do—they appear on a website—it would show that the situation has grown like Topsy over the years. Some of the requirements appear to be quite preposterous. They are nevertheless the law. Such a card and a national accreditation system would help retailers to comply with the law. The issue of consolidation is for another time and, I suspect, another piece of legislation.

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