HL Deb 18 October 2004 vol 665 cc517-9

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made in establishing a single national proof of age scheme for young persons.

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker)

My Lords, the Government welcome the steps taken by the British Retail Consortium and the excellent progress made in establishing the proof of age standards scheme. The Government are pleased that the retailers are increasingly asking for ID for age-restricted purchases. We believe that measures such as the PASS scheme, which will have issued 1.5 million standard cards by next June, is an effective way in which to proceed in advance of a national ID cards scheme.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, especially as he answered the same Question for me more than two years ago. He was then hoping for progress—clearly it has now happened. Does he believe that these cards, which are in common use in other parts of the world, would help to reduce binge drinking in the underage? Does he have any comment on the lottery's announcement last week that people will be able to buy their lottery tickets by text? How will anyone establish the age of the people buying those tickets?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, on the first point, binge drinking is a serious problem, but I am not sure that it is age related. If there is serious binge drinking among the underage, that is one issue; but the vast majority of those involved are those in their early 20s, who can go legally into pubs. There are strategies relating to alcohol-harm reduction and dealing with what is known as "vertical drinking establishments". I first heard that phrase uttered by a senior police officer at a Home Office briefing some time ago, and I know that the Home Secretary used it in the Commons. I myself had to ask what vertical drinking establishments were, and it was explained to me, as were the problems that they cause.

A noble Lord

So what is it?

Lord Rooker

My Lords, basically, it is a place where one stands up and drinks all night—without the sawdust on the floor.

The issue of underage drinking needs to be dealt with separately from the problem of binge drinking. I do not see a reaction there, although they are both serious issues.

On the noble Baroness's second point about buying lottery tickets by text, I understand that it will work only with people aged over 16 who are resident in the UK and have a valid UK debit card. Only they will be entitled to play and will be able to buy through the interactive channels. So there are ways in which to validate the age, identity and the correct debit card details. Camelot has been accredited by interactive age check, by Citizen Card. The National Lottery website has been accredited by GamCare, which is the UK's national centre for information, advice and help regarding the social impact of gambling. So there looks to be checks in place; it will not be possible simply to text away to buy lottery tickets without one's identity and age being known.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, given that a person using a fake proof of age card commits an offence if it is used to deceive, and that the recent media coverage of the issue tells us that the worst that happens to young people who try that is that they are simply refused entry or refused to be served, what are the Government doing to encourage the trade not only to ask for proof of age cards but to report an offence to the police if it appears that there is anything suspicious about the card—and to take the card away? Those cards do not come free on the Internet. The companies selling them may not technically be committing an offence, but they are selling them in order to deceive and for people to commit an offence.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, I do not know the specific answer to the noble Baroness's question. By and large, the idea of the card is to prevent someone who is underage purchasing a particular age-related product, whether it is alcohol, gambling or fireworks. The main thing is to stop the purchase, if it is an age-related issue. A "no ID, no sale" campaign has been run and has reached 100,000 retailers. Quite fortuitously, before I knew about this Question, I was at a garage that sold all kinds of things, and I heard the person behind the counter ask someone about their proof of age. I had not heard that before, or had not been conscious of it happening. So retailers are asking that question—and refusing the product is the key target that we are after. Clearly, if people are committing an offence by forging the cards, that is another issue, but it is not the main issue.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts

My Lords, could the Minister follow up the noble Baroness's question? Is he aware that the cards are available on the Internet for £15? The Government must take some steps to inhibit their purchase, or it will undercut completely any national scheme.

Lord Rooker

My Lords, the scheme has been established by the British Retail Consortium. I Pay credit where it is due to that body, which has set up the scheme. It is being phased in in an extremely efficient manner. Currently, there are nearly 750,000 proof of age standards scheme cards in circulation, and there will be 1.5 million by June next year. Twelve other schemes have received accreditation from that scheme, with CitizenCard issuing 3,000 a week. The Portman Group, which deals with the alcohol industry, will have issued 35,000 cards by the end of the year, and Connexions more than 300,000 cards.

I am not saying that being able to buy cards off the Internet is not an issue, but it is not the main issue—the main issue is to stop underage purchases of age-related products. People who are stealing and forging cards, as with other such offences, will have to be apprehended and caught and appropriate action will have to be taken. But the key issue with the cards is to protect young people from the purchase that they might seek to make.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I understood the Minister's reference to vertical drinking, or, come to that, leaning over drinking and eventually horizontal drinking, but did he refer to virtual drinking? What is that and is it available in the Bishops' Bar?

Lord Rooker

No, my Lords, I did not.

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