HL Deb 19 June 2003 vol 649 cc926-9

9 Page 9, line 14, at end insert— ( ) a body which—

  1. (i) represents those who, in relation to any such area, are responsible for, or interested in, matters relating to the protection of children from harm, and
  2. (ii) is recognised by the licensing authority for that area for the purposes of this section as being competent to advise it on such matters."

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 9. I shall speak also to Commons Amendments Nos. 23, 50 and 52. Indeed, I shall speak in favour of Amendment No. 50A to my own Amendment No. 50.

The protection of children from harm is one of the four licensing objectives of the Bill. No one here would want to deny children access to the village shop, which also happens to be the off-licence. No one here would want to deny children access to a supermarket, Pizza Hut, the cinema or the theatre, even though all are licensed premises.

None of us would want to see children in lap dancing clubs, gaming clubs or seedy bars that are associated with drug dealing or under-age drinking. But between those two there are many shades of grey, where, in given circumstances, we would anticipate that children should be given access to licensed premises. We moved two amendments in another place to remove Clauses 143 and 151 on the grounds that they were undesirably restrictive. A number of children's representatives with whom the Secretary of State consulted agreed with that position.

Among other things, Clause 143 raised a raft of issues over the definition of licensed premises in subsection (2), and Clause 151 raises issues of practicality. It would effectively require under-14s to be accompanied in supermarkets and corner shops. I hope that the House can agree to the removal of these clauses on that basis.

Having said that, we have listened carefully to the many powerful arguments put to us over the past few months. In its place, I shall later move Amendment No. 50A, which proposes that the House agrees with the Commons in their amendments and agrees to a further amendment in lieu to the Bill to the effect that it will be an offence to admit children under 16 to certain categories of premises where they are not accompanied by an adult. Those premises are as follows: those exclusively or primarily used for the supply of alcohol for consumption on the premises; and those open for the purposes of being used for the supply of alcohol for consumption on the premises by virtue of Part 5—permitted temporary activities—which, at the time the temporary event notice has effect, are exclusively or primarily used for such supplies.

So, a garden fete, for example, which has a temporary event notice, is not being used exclusively for that supply, and, therefore, unaccompanied children can properly be allowed in. It will also be an offence to allow an unaccompanied child to be on relevant premises at a time between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. when the premises are open for the purposes of being used for the supply of alcohol for consumption there. The scheme is designed to put in place a statutory barrier to the unaccompanied access of children essentially to pubs and night-clubs, but to allow access to restaurants, cafés, cinemas and theatres.

The Secretary of State and I have been keen throughout the development of the Bill to take into account the views of organisations with an interest in the protection of children from harm and to consider how they can be reflected in legislation. We have consulted a range of bodies including the NSPCC, the Children's Society, the Methodist Church, the Salvation Army, Turning Point, Alcohol Concern, the Association of Directors of Social Services and the Association of Chief Police Officers. We have developed a balanced package, which will ensure access, where appropriate, to children in a family-friendly environment, while providing them with protection.

The protection of children from harm is a key licensing objective, and we need to ensure that licensing decisions have expert input on that objective. Amendments made in another place added the local area child protection committees, or their successor bodies, to the list of responsible authorities that can make representations on licensing applications, new or variations, and raise issues of concern relating to any of the licensing objectives through the review provisions.

I have already indicated what is on the face of the Bill. In statutory guidance we will cover factors which indicate a licensed premises' suitability for access by children, from those where it is felt that the risks to children, whether supervised or unsupervised, are too great; for example, premises where there is the possibility of children being exposed to drug taking or dealing, gambling, adult or sexual entertainment or illegal selling of alcohol to minors, through to premises to which unsupervised children under 16 should be permitted access. We will also emphasise that where any access for children is permitted, the licensee will still have to demonstrate clearly the steps that it is proposed to take to promote the protection of children from harm in the operating schedule. My officials will continue to work with the child protection organisations and take their views into account in preparing the final version of the guidance.

I believe that this balanced package offers the best way forward on this issue.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 9. —(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

Lord Williamson of Horton

My Lords, when I intervened earlier I should have declared an interest as a non-executive director of Whitbread. However, I have done it so many times in the course of the Bill that it is probably well known.

On this particular point I intervene to thank the Minister for Amendment No. 50A and for the other point that he raised, which was one that I raised earlier. I believe that we now have provisions that give adequate protection for unaccompanied children. That is a real improvement in the Bill. The Government have responded satisfactorily to our concerns.

Baroness Buscombe

My Lords, it will not surprise noble Lords to hear me say how enormously grateful I am to the Minister for the amendments. I believe that the amendments are here today because of the pressure that was put on the Government by noble Lords when this matter was debated at length in your Lordships' House. I pay particular tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, and others, who supported me through the discussions on those amendments.

This is a tremendously important subject. We are grateful that the Government, as a result of pressure from your Lordships, have now consulted widely and will continue to consult on the matter. Perhaps our amendments were unduly restrictive, but the Government took on board the spirit of what we were trying to achieve. I am grateful to them for that. The Bill as originally drafted did not protect the interests of children. I believe that now, with these amendments, the Bill will protect the interests of children and help parents to cope. I am grateful to the Minister.

On Question, Motion agreed to.