HL Deb 26 May 2004 vol 661 cc1422-4

8.53 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 10 May be approved.

The noble Baroness said

I beg to move the draft Licensing (Indoor Arenas) (Northern Ireland) Order 2004, the purpose of which is to enable indoor arenas to apply for a licence to sell alcohol. It amends the Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 to include an indoor arena in the categories of premises which may apply for a licence.

That will enable an indoor arena to sell alcohol to people employed at, or attending, events, provided that food and non-alcoholic drinks are also available. Young people under the age of 18 will not be permitted to purchase or consume alcohol, but they will be allowed to purchase food and soft drinks from kiosks that also sell alcohol.

Opening hours for the sale of alcohol will be the same as for other licensed premises, with late opening to 1 a.m. available on certain occasions. A court will, however, have the power to attach any conditions that it considers appropriate to a licence. The majority of responses to the consultation supported the licensing of indoor arenas, and this change in the law will be welcomed. I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 10 May be approved.—(Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton.)

Lord Glentoran

My Lords, I thank thy noble Baroness for presenting that order so clearly. I had a few words with officials, being concerned about a bit of the detail of the order, particularly descriptions of an arena and various other small items. I assure noble Lords that they satisfied me completely that this is a wise and sensible order. I support the order.

Lord Rogan

My Lords, I will be brief this evening, as the order is broadly welcomed by the Ulster Unionist Party. It is a sign of improving times that we are today debating licensing arrangements for entertainment facilities such as the Odyssey Arena in Belfast, when it was not so long ago that venturing into the city for a night out was an impossibility. The Odyssey, along with the many other bars, concert halls and restaurants that have sprung up not only in Belfast, but throughout Northern Ireland, is a symbol of our emerging confidence; of how far we have come along the road to peace and indeed, how far we wish to continue travelling on that road.

That aside, as the noble Baroness has pointed out. the order removes the current barrier to venues such as the Odyssey Arena applying for a liquor licence under the present Licensing Order. It does not make sense to me—and it undoubtedly proves not only time consuming, but a huge administrative burden to both the Odyssey Arena and the courts—for the Odyssey to have to apply for occasional licences each and every time it hosts an event.

We all wish to see the Odyssey, and other venues like it in Northern Ireland, continue to attract international sporting competitions, music concerts, plays, musicals and speakers. They are great for our image and excellent for our economy. The ability to buy alcohol is part and parcel of the whole entertainment experience. When does the Minister expect the legislation to come into force? What other arrangements have to be put in place to justify the delay?

One aspect of the order that concerns me is the new clause relating to young people, which inserts new Article 52A into the 1996 order. While this was added following extensive consultation, and I defer to the judgment of those closer to the practicalities of the legislation, it strikes me as a somewhat precarious addition. While young people can currently buy goods other than alcohol from kiosks that sell alcohol at public transport premises, that is an entirely different situation to attending a pop concert or an ice hockey match. At an entertainment event the temptation to buy alcohol may be greater, and such a provision is therefore much more open to abuse than it is at a bus or railway station. Not only will young people have the inclination to produce a false identity card, but staff manning the kiosks will not have the time to check that each customer is over 18. We must remember that at a concert or the theatre, staff will be inundated with customers during the 15-or 20-minute interval. That is not enough time to police the legal requirements adequately.

Has the Minister had any feedback on this provision? How does she propose that this will be better policed? What are the Government doing to encourage both a greater uptake of accurate ID cards which bear the PASS logo and impress upon retailers the need to ask for such a card?

Recent speculation in the press has suggested that Northern Ireland will soon benefit from its own regional stadium. Indeed, if media reports are to be believed, we will soon have a stadium not unlike the Reebok stadium in Bolton. A regional stadium, where every sport can be enjoyed by everyone, is to be widely welcomed. I am glad that the Government are finally looking seriously at making this provision and seeking ways in which to make such a stadium more sustainable. I am pleased that appropriate licensing arrangements will be in place in time for the stadium's opening.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I hope I am able to answer the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Rogan. He paid me the courtesy of indicating the areas in which he might raise concerns. In answer to his question about timing, the introduction of the draft order by means of the commencement provision is required mainly for administrative reasons—namely, the making of subordinate legislation by the Department for Social Development and the Northern Ireland Court Service. That is also the answer to the process that will be taken up.

Providing food and soft drinks are already available, an indoor arena will not require a children's certificate to enable young people under the age of 18 to be at a kiosk selling alcohol. I take the noble Lord's point about the importance of accurate ID cards. As all noble Lords know, the issue of compulsory ID cards is a matter that is no doubt to be resolved in a wider context before Parliament.

It is important that young people under the age of 18 are not able to purchase alcohol. The courts will be given the power to attach any conditions considered appropriate to an indoor arena licence. They will have the discretion to react to any concern about the sale of alcohol from kiosks at certain events, such as those to which the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, referred, particularly those aimed at young people. The courts will carefully monitor the concerns that the noble Lord has raised. None of us wishes to see the facility being spoilt which is— and was recognised by those responding to the consultation as being—a wise and sensible one. I am quite sure all concerned with this will continue to monitor the situation carefully, not least the noble Lord, Lord Rogan.

On Question, Motion agreed to.