Previous Section Home Page

Column 530

possible. I give an undertaking to the hon. Member for Belfast, South that we intend to do that as quickly as possible.

Ms. Mowlam : My point and the point that I am sure that the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) was making is that we appreciate that the Minister says that he will do this as quickly as possible. However, we are concerned that many sections of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 are still awaiting implementation. Therefore, "as quickly as possible" is a little vague and general. We want a definite response from the Minister about the time span.

With regard to my earlier point, I was not interested in whether the Minister beats his wife although it looks as if someone has beaten him this afternoon. I was asking specifically whether he will use the survey which is being carried out into disability in Northern Ireland over the next two years as a reason why nothing will happen over the next two years. The Minister's response seemed to be that we will have to wait two years before anything happens.

Mr. Needham : I did not say that. The hon. Lady heard perfectly well what I said. She reaffirms my view that she knew the answer to the question that she asked. She knows perfectly well that whatever I say she will treat as unsatisfactory. It would be intolerable, as the hon. Lady knows, for us to come forward with a review if it had not been thought out and we did not have all the available statistics. This process will take however long is necessary. I cannot say that it will take two years, two months or two days. We will do it as quickly as possible, as the hon. Lady knows. We need to do it as quickly as possible to ensure that the service available for disabled people in Northern Ireland is as capable and adequate as we can make it.

The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe asked why there is such so much money available for the budget in Northern Ireland in comparison to the rest of the country. The right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Redcar know that there are higher levels of deprivation and morbidity in Northern Ireland. I was grateful to the hon. Member for Belfast, South for explaining the valid reasons for the funding and for putting on the record some of the not so valid reasons. We must analyse how we can best use the resources. We are going back to the boards to discuss the costs of this legislation once it is introduced. The figures are not available at the moment. The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe knows only too well that it is not for me to say, priority by priority, how the boards spend the money that is allocated to them. If I did that, there would be no point in having the boards. It is up to the boards, as part of their strategic plans, to determine how the resouces are to be spent and what resources they can find to implement the legislation.

However, I accept that the Bill is important and necessary for Northern Ireland. I congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast, South on the way in which he has handled his Bill and, as I said, I will do everything to ensure that we implement as quickly as possible everything that is already being implemented in Britain. Thereafter, we will look at the other clauses, which I hope will soon be sections, to see how quickly we can add those to the list. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Belfast, South

Column 531

that we must do everything possible to improve and build on the very good level of care that we currently provide for disabled people in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : I call Mr. Skinner. 1.44 pm

Mr. Skinner (Bolsover) : Said Mr. Deputy Speaker with a heavy sigh.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman underrates the gravity with which I called him.

Mr. Skinner : I was here this morning on the dot, and I have just listened to the Minister reply to the points made by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I also recall other Bills for the disabled being brought before the House since 1970 by other Back Benchers. One of them was my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who in 1970, together with his brother, introduced a Bill. My right hon. Friend has been arguing for additional resources for the disabled ever since.

The law is being broken left, right and centre by the Government and by mainly Tory local authorities refusing to implement the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlem) asks when the Bill will be enacted and when extra resources will be made available. Despite her further intervention, the Minister has not given a satisfactory reply. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) should beware the sprat that is thrown to catch a mackerel. There is just half a chance that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will tell him that a little more might be done, provided that he signs on the dotted line in respect of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I can see that coming. I can see there being a bit of blackmail, with the Government saying, "We can hurry this measure along and help the hon. Member with his private Member's Bill", because that is how callously the Government treat the disabled. If that were not the case, why does my right hon. Friend have to battle week in, week out for the necessary resources? I warn all right hon. and hon. Members who think that the Bill is past the post that they should beware when a private Member's Bill is given the nod by the Government. One would think that the Government did not have the money to implement the Bill yet we are talking about helping only 100,000 disabled people in Northern Ireland. We are talking about providing them with telephones, and it can be argued that they need telephones more than people in other parts of the United Kingdom. Only a few weeks ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House, "I've got £14,000 million and I do not know what to do with it." Then a Minister tells the House on a Friday afternoon that he does not know where the resources to meet the Bill's provisions will come from--just a few hundreds of millions of pounds to help to meet the needs of the disabled.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe pointed out that the Bill is all about making sure that assessments are speeded up. We know only too well that it is one thing to tell the disabled that their local authority is looking into the matter, but it is another when an official

Column 532

reveals that the rate support grant has been cut again and that assessments must be slowed down, saying, "We feel sorry for the disabled but we must shove those assessments into a little pigeon hole." The country is awash with money. The Chancellor is paying off the national debt when he should be paying off society's debt to the disabled both in Britain and in Northern Ireland. He should be paying off our debt to the people who have grafted all their lives and who generated this country's wealth. Instead, we have a tinpot Minister coming to the House who must have tumbled off his motor bike--he has a scar on his face.

The Minister says that he cannot guarantee when the Bill will be enacted, but he dangles that prospect like a carrot. It may be a question of waiting until a few months before the next general election and then of making a special announcement to provide a sweetener to the people of Northern Ireland. We may subsequently see English, Scottish and Welsh Ministers coming to the House and telling my right hon. Friend that, in lieu of the Northern Ireland legislation, the Government intend doing a little more.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Redcar wanted the Minister to be more specific over timing.

Ms. Mowlam : I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that one of the reasons why the Northern Ireland Council on Disability is so keen to see the legislation on the statutue book is the impact of the Government training schemes, which is causing particular concern in Northern Ireland. The schemes are not servicing the needs of the disabled and many young disabled people have no future.

Mr. Skinner : This has always been a problem in Northern Ireland. Disabled people are usually at the bottom of the pile, and you can bet your bottom dollar that in a capitalist society they will be the first to be shoved on one side and thrown on the scrap heap. If hon. Members look at the cardboard boxes on the Charing Cross embankment, they will see a lot of disabled people.

In Northern Ireland, mass unemployment has prevailed throughout my lifetime at least. It has never been conquered, and it is one of the problems-- although not the only one--at the root of the trouble in Northern Ireland. That is why from time to time the Government throw other little sprats, such as the Harland and Wolff privatisation scheme, but I shall not talk about that today--I noticed you shuffling in your chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Let me say this to the Minister : get along to the Prime Minister--when she has got rid of her flavour-of-the-month friend Gorbachev--and tell her, "There has been a debate in the House of Commons this morning about a necessary Bill for Northern Ireland. Only a few hundred million pounds are needed to provide a bit more comfort for disabled people there." The Minister is not listening ; he does not care.

Let the hon. Gentleman say to the Prime Minister, "You are the Prime Minister who, only a few weeks ago, found £500 million on the nod to try to placate a dozen Tory Kent constituencies with which you were in trouble." The Bexley Mujahidin came down with the hordes, and she found the money--I hear that it has now risen to £800 million. That is the Prime Minister who found a sum of money on a television programme because there was a mix-up over some figures between her and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. She trots around all those

Column 533

gimmicks. Is it not time that Ministers had the guts to challenge her? Instead of letting themselves be treated like rubbing rags or dishcloths, why do they not say to her, "If I am to carry out the proper wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, I need money"? And the same applies in Great Britain.

Having more or less assured the hon. Member for Belfast, South that the Bill would be passed, and having given him other little assurances on the side that everything would be all right, the Minister now comes along on the fateful morning--sent by his gaffer--to tell the House, "I will not give in on the question of resources", and to stick to it rigidly. He has been told, "Stand your ground. We have £14,000 million of taxpayers' money, but you cannot give it to the disabled."

I think that the Minister should make one last effort to answer at the Dispatch Box. He should say exactly what he will do about resources, when the Bill will be enacted, when the necessary assessments will be made and when money will be provided to cure some of the problems in Northern Ireland. Then we in Great Britain can build on that.

1.53 pm

Rev. Martin Smyth : I appreciate the helpful contributions made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, particularly the arguments of the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) on behalf of carers. I think that the Minister has got the message.

I was also delighted by what was said by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). It may reflect a conversation that I had recently with an old sparring partner of his who now deals with social services in Northern Ireland, and who sent his greetings. If there is any suspicion that we in Northern Ireland can be bought off on this day of days, I must say that we, too, can speak Russian and that we say, "Niet."

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Column 534

Common Land (Rectification of Registers) Bill

Considered in Committee.

[ Mr. Harold Walker

in the Chair ]

Clause 1

Removal from Register

Amendments made : No. 1, in page 1, line 6, leave out from the' to end of line 9 and insert

registration authority maintaining a register of common land and of town and village greens under the Commons Registration Act 1965, object to the inclusion on either of the registers of the whole or part of any land in respect of which the requirements specified in subsection (1A) below are satisfied.

(1A) Those requirements are--

(a) that there is, and at all times since 5th August 1945 has been, a dwellinghouse on the land ;

(b) that in so far as the land is not the site of the dwellinghouse it consists of land ancillary to that dwellinghouse ; and (

(c) that the land does not include any land which on the said 5th August was niether the site of the dwellinghouse which was then on the land nor land ancillary to that dwellinghouse.

(1B) For the purposes of subsection (1A) above land ancillary to a dwellinghouse means a garden, private garage or outbuildings used and enjoyed with the dwellinghouse ; and in that subsection "dwellinghouse" includes a building consisting of two or more separate dwellings.'.

No. 3, in page 1, line 13, leave out from beginning to end of line 16 and insert

requirements specified in subsection (1A) above are satisfied in the case of the land to which the objection relates, he shall give notice of his decision to the registration authority who shall modify the register so as to exclude that land.

(3) Where a register is modified under this section so as to exclude any land the registration authority shall also cancel the registration of any person as the owner of that land.'.-- [Mr. Favell.]

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 disagreed to.

Clause 4


Amendment made : No. 5, in page 2, line 6, at endinsert-- (2) This Act applies in relation to land in which there is a Crown or Duchy interest within the meaning of section 23 of the said Act of 1965 as it applies to land in which there is no such interest.

(3) This Act does not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland.'.-- [Mr. Favell.]

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

New Clause 1


Section 19(1), (4) and (5) of the said Act 1965 (Regulations) shall have effect as if this Act were included in that Act ; and regulations under that section may also prescribe the payment of a fee not exceeding £100 on the making of an objection under this Act.'.-- [Mr. Favell.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Column 535


Amendment made : No. 6, in line 1, leave out from beginning to and' in line 5 and insert

Provide for removing from the registers maintained under the Commons Registration Act 1965 land on which there is, and at all times since 5th August 1945, has been a dwelling house.'.-- [Mr. Favell.]

Bill, as amended, reported.

Order for Third Reading read.

Mr. Speaker : Queen's and Prince of Wales's consent?

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : So given.

1.56 pm

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Under the Commons Registration Act 1965, all common land in England and Wales, or a town or village green, together with rights of common ownership of such land has to be registered. In all, about 1.5 million acres of land were registered. Kate Ashbrook of the Open Spaces Society says in her excellent booklet "Our Common Right" that the variety of landscape and habitat embraced by common land is quite unique. Both she and others who are interested in our rural heritage want to protect the existing commons. I support them in their anxiety to see the Government implement the pledge that was given in the last Conservative party manifesto to that effect.

This short Bill is directed not towards protecting existing commons but towards remedying an injustice that arose out of the 1965 Act. The result is that several hundred home owners have had their houses registered as common land and they have found that it is difficult, if not impossible, to sell their houses.

Under the 1965 Act, common land has to be registered. Acre upon acre was registered provisionally by interested parties. Provisional registration was advertised. If no objection was received by a date now long since past, those rights were recorded on a common register. Unfortunately, the Act contained no provision to remove from the register houses that had been registered as common land by mistake. It is towards remedying that defect and injustice that the Bill is directed.

1.59 pm

Ms. Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : I support the Bill, and I should like to use this opportunity to make some points on the wider issues. The Bill addresses a small element of the problem that surrounds common land, and I welcome the opportunity that it affords to put right a small part of what is wrong. I also welcome the Bill's proposals in relation to land registry and the fact that it does not appear to prejudice the more general legislation that is so obviously needed.

There are deficiencies under the Commons Registration Act 1965 which need to be rectified. The Bill addresses itself to the anomaly of land mistakenly registered as common land and makes provision to deregister in such cases. At least two safeguards should be introduced. First, application to deregister under the Bill should be advertised on site and, secondly, the common registers office--usually the county council--should notify the Commons Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society. That would ensure that full and fair public notice

Column 536

was given of any claim to deregister and that appropriate experts with the necessary resources and commitment could properly assess the case in hand.

I am sure that Conservative Members who support the Bill will agree that we have been waiting for a long time for comprehensive legislation to deal with the matter. The Government must address themselves to the much wider issues of common land registration. This is the appropriate time to ask exactly when they will honour their manifesto commitment to common land on the basis of the common land forum. The Government have said that they will legislate as soon as parliamentary time permits. They must surely be able to give a clear indication of when that will be. I suggest that these are matters of political will. I hope that the Government will have the political will to deal with this matter just as they have clearly shown their political will in respect of many other issues for which they have made parliamentary time, and the time of parliamentary counsel, available.

Mr. Favell : I shall probably not have another opportunity to speak, so let me just say that I agree with the hon. Lady that applications or objections under the Bill should be clearly advertised on site. The Bill has had to be introduced precisely because people were not aware of what was happening. I also agree with the hon. Lady that we need omnibus legislation. Finally, I think that it would be useful if societies such as the open space society and other interested parties were made aware of applications under the Bill.

Ms. Walley : I welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention. It would be sad if we made the same mistakes in the Bill as were made 20 years ago. The Minister is nodding ; I am sure that she has taken those points on board.

I am not usually a cynical person but if one were cynical, one might imagine that groups such as the Moorland Association had undue influence upon the Government through traditional channels. Those private interest groups made loud noises following the Conservative manifesto commitment, saying that access to areas of grouse moorland and the like registered as common land should be restricted to public footpaths. Any concessions to such interest groups would lead to equal pressure being exerted by other groups and would debase the agreement surrounding the common land forum. They would also represent a clear breach of the Government's manifesto promise. The public have a right to walk on all common land in England and Wales subject to commonsense restrictions enshrined in bye-law's. At present there are 1.5 million acres of common land--an area the size of Lincolnshire--yet the public have rights in relation to only one fifth of that area. It is clear that management associations should be made up of all interests in common land--owners, common rights holders and the public- -represented by local authority nominees. Such associations would sort out the necessary provision of common land in the best interest for use and recreation by the general public. Perhaps the most essential purpose of the legislation is to sort out all the deficiencies of the Commons Registration Act 1965. The Act allows properly registered land to be deregulated, for example if the owner of the land gets the common right holders to give up those rights, thus extinguishing common land and allowing it to be

Column 537

deregistered. Therefore, further to deregistering land that is mistakenly classified as common land, the legislation should tighten up abuses of the system which allow properly registered land to be deregulated. All land on the registers at the time of this legislation should be deemed to remain common land, unless there is proof that it was originally classified by mistake. Those measures are supported by the common land forum and were endorsed by the Government. I ask for a clear commitment to those principles by the Government and for it to be made known if and when the Government will honour their promises. In that context, I welcome the Bill. 2.5 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) : I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend theMember for Stockport (Mr. Favell) on bringing forward this important Bill which will rectify an injustice and grievances which have faced many people in this country. I will put the matter in its context to reply to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley). The registration of commons took place as a first step to meet the 1958 Royal Commission's report on common land and its suggestion that legislation should be brought forward to cover common land generally--obviously, a first step was to establish

registration--before moving on to measures covering better management and access, which the hon. Lady mentioned. Arising out of the Commons Registration Act have been the anomalies which my hon. Friend hopes to redress. The common land forum was set up by the Countryside Commission to analyse the various steps that would be necessary to meet some of the 1958 Royal Commission's report. It produced its report in 1986, and, a year later, the Government produced a consultation paper on the basis of it.

Although there is broad agreement on many issues and the common land forum did an excellent job in bringing together diverse interests--for example, access groups, local authorities and landowners--several controversial issues have not been satisfactorily settled. As soon as it is possible to make progress on legislation, when parliamentary time is available, the Government will bring forward that legislation. I share the hon. Lady's wish for these matters to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. It must be on the basis of a little further work and agreement. Within that overall strategy, which is a firm Government commitment, we are making headway today with my hon. Friend's Bill to redress the anomaly. The hon. Lady asked for an assurance that local authorities will be informed of any proposals to remove a property from the register. I can give that assurance. When we make regulations as soon as possible after the legislation comes into force, we will make sure that the widest possible publicity is given to applications under it. We expect that publicity to include advertisements in the local press, notice to local authorities, including parish councils, and, possibly, a notice on the property. We will also give sympathetic consideration to any suggestion that amenity societies should be informed of an application to remove a dwelling from the register. The lack of notification led to many of the difficulties of the 1965 Act.

I wish the Bill well and hope that it will achieve the objective of dealing with unfortunate anomalies.

Column 538

2.9 pm

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : I have lived all my life in the countryside, and my constituency is rural in character. It is about 30 miles long and about the same wide.

For the past 12 months or thereabouts I have sat in this House and heard talk from the Government about privatising water. I should like to know from the Minister just how this Bill will fit in, supposing that water is privatised and that the Water Bill receives Royal Assent this year. When the French come in and buy up all the land, how much will this Bill, introduced by the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell), prove to have been taken into account in relation to the privatisation? Instead of private companies or public authorities holding 75 per cent. of the land associated with water, Perrier-type people will be buying it all up. Therefore, I want to know what safeguards the Government will provide to make sure that the Bill is carried through properly.

I also want to know--I have not heard this from the Minister--about the money that will be provided. However, perhaps I should not ask too many questions too quickly because the Minister's hon. Friend the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) is having to run backwards and forwards to the civil servants in the Box to try to find the answers. These things should have been thought through. If the Government are so keen on privatising water, they should not be giving these assurances to their hon. Friend the Member for Stockport who also wants to privatise water but who wants at the same time to preserve common land to some extent. Those two things are in contradiction and we want an answer on that point.

I also want to know who will be responsibile for picking up the litter on the common land. We hear a lot of talk from the Prime Minister who runs about the country with a bag in her hand--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address himself to what is in the Bill. It is about removing from the register of common land certain dwelling houses as specified in the Bill.

Mr. Skinner : Yes, and when those things are removed from the register--

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : What comes after?

Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend is absolutely right to ask what comes after. One cannot deregulate this and deregulate that and expect everything to remain the same. I have asked a simple enough question. The Prime Minister runs to Tory party conferences talking about, "Bag it and bin it and stick her in it"--at least that is what she should have said. What is going to happen? Who will see to the litter? How much money will the Government provide to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are carried out?

I referred earlier to the fact that there is all this money in the country, so will the Minister provide the necessary resources? [Interruption.] I am not talking about this year ; I am talking about later. The hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) has been a Minister for only five minutes and does not know whether she is on this earth or Fuller's. I am telling her that private Member's

Column 539

Bills have been passed before. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) was here earlier. He thought that he had got all the money under the sun for the chronically sick and the disabled back in 1970, but they did not get it. That is why I am asking these questions. What about the necessary resources? I should like to hear from the Minister about what effect the water privatisation--

Mr. Favell : The hon. Gentleman, who represents Bolsover, which is a place that I know well because I fought the seat in 1979--alas unsuccessfully--has raised an important point. In the Bill I have provided that those applying to take their houses off the register should pay a fee not exceeding £100 so that no burden should fall on others.

Mr. Skinner : And that will apply this year, next year and sometime never, irrespective of the rate of inflation and other things? The way that we are going on with 8 per cent. inflation, it will not be long before that £100 will have to be changed. It is all very well to think that here we are caught in a time warp on a Friday morning and that everything in the garden is lovely, but we should project our minds a little further ahead and think about what this Bill will mean when water has been privatised, when the French have moved in and when we are under the domain of the Common Market to an even greater extent than at present--and that will happen because the Tories will give in over and over again. We should think about all those things and about what the Bill will mean. It will probably not be worth a row of beans.

I am asking the hon. Member for Stockport to ask the Minister to ensure that the safeguards are built in not just for today, and that the Bill will have something of value in years to come.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Column 540

Licensing (Low Alcohol Drinks) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

2.15 pm

Mr. Conal Gregory (York) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I consider that Private Members' time is a traditional time for remedying deficiencies in our legislation, and my Bill is in that mould. It seeks to rectify an anomaly in the law relating to beverages. I declare a distant interest as I am a master of wine by qualification. That involves an examination based on a thorough knowledge and evaluation of wine. I should like to place on record my thanks to the National United Temperance Council, whose energetic secretary, the Reverend Bernard Kinman, has been most helpful, to Mrs. Ann Jesper of Leisure Drinks Limited and to those right hon. and hon. Members who have indicated their support, especially the hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) and my hon. Friends the Members for Bolton, North -East (Mr. Thurnham), for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) and for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor). The Bill clearly has all-party support.

Garibaldi could have been right when he said :

"Bacchus has drowned more men than Neptune."

Moderation in the consumption of alcohol is very much the sensible approach today. At a governmental level the production, distribution and sale of beverages crosses many Departments. I welcome my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State for the Home Department to our debate. Only this week the Home Office research and planning unit produced a study of drinking and disorder in rural areas. Today the House has the opportunity to bring legislation into line with modern practices. It is nonsensical that the law regarding low and non-alcoholic drinks is based on the manufacturing process rather than on the alcohol present in the product at the time of sale. As a result, shandy, which may be 0.9 per cent. by volume, can be bought in any corner shop selling soft drinks, but a de-alcoholised wine only 0.05 per cent. by volume cannot be sold through such an outlet and is legally confined to licensed premises.

The market for alternative drinks hardly existed in the United Kingdom before the 1980s. The phenomenal growth, together with the increase in the consumption of mineral waters, constitutes possibly the most significant change in drinking habits this century. Those changes have evolved alongside greater public awareness of health care, drinking and driving, and of the alcoholic factor in such issues as child abuse, broken homes, football hooliganism and a long list of criminal activities.

The fact that similar trends have been observed in the United States of America and in other countries gives good reason to assume that this change in the nation's drinking habits is not a passing fad. It is necessary that alternative drinks be covered by unambiguous and enforceable legislation. Existing legislation--both the Licensing Act 1964 and the labelling regulations--causes confusion not only to the public, but to the trade. Despite that simple fact, the Licensing Act, when applied to alternative drinks, makes a distinction according to the method of production, and the labelling regulations make a distinction according to the type of drink.

Column 541

Imagine a girl serving behind a bar in a large hotel in one of our major cities plaintively asking, "Can I sell this low alcohol lager in the afternoon?" Such a scene highlights a growing identification problem that afternoon opening hours have not resolved.

The problem is the complicated labelling requirements for drinks that do not need a licence. Those are not the regular soft drinks--we all know where we stand with those--but the new breed of alternative drinks. Those are the non-alcoholic lagers and wines, and many other non-alcoholic drinks now coming on to the market, such as the Pernod and Campari lookalikes, and the vermouths and the ciders that contain less than the magic 1.14 per cent. of alcohol by volume above which a licence is required for their sale.

Why do the British have to complicate such things? In France, West Germany and the rest of the European Community, drinks below the respective country's licensing level are called such things as "alcohol-free wine" or "biere sans alcohol". In the United Kingdom the phrase "alcohol free" is used if the alcohol content is less than 0.05 per cent., the phrase "de- alcoholised" is used if the drink is below that level and "low alcohol" is used if the alcohol content is above 0.05 per cent. A drink must also be described as low alcohol if it is above the 0.05 per cent. content, but not produced by a de-alcoholisation process.

Next Section

  Home Page