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Column 260(9) In sections 652B and 652C, "disposal" includes part disposal.'.-- [Mr. Neil Hamilton.]
Amendments made : No. 71, in page 75, line 3, after if' insert , at any time in the previous 3 months,'.
No. 72, in page 75, leave out lines 4 to 8 and insert
(a) changed its name,
(b) traded or otherwise carried on business,
(c) made a disposal for value of property or rights which, immediately before ceasing to trade or otherwise carry on business, it held for the purpose of disposal for gain in the normal course of trading or otherwise carrying on business, or
(d) engaged in any other activity, except one which is
(i) necessary or expedient for the purpose of making an application under Article 603A, or deciding whether to do so,
(ii) necessary or expedient for the purpose of concluding the affairs of the company,
(iii) necessary or expedient for the purpose of complying with any statutory requirement, or
(iv) specified for the purposes of this head by the Department by order made subject to negative resolution.
(1A) For the purposes of paragraph (1), a company shall not be treated as trading or otherwise carrying on business by virtue only of the fact that it makes a payment in respect of a liability incurred in the course of trading or otherwise carrying on business.'.
No. 73, in page 76, line 15, leave out (c)' and insert (d)'. No. 74, in page 76, leave out lines 40 to 43 and insert
(i) changes its name,
(ii) trades or otherwise carries on business,
(iii) makes a disposal for value of any property or rights other than those which it was necessary or expedient for it to hold for the purpose of making, or proceeding with, an application under Article 603A, or
(iv) engages in any other activity, except one to which paragraph (6) applies.'.
No. 75, in page 77, line 9, at end insert
(6) This paragraph applies to any activity which is
(a) necessary or expedient for the purpose of making, or proceeding with, an application under Article 603A,
(b) necessary or expedient for the purpose of concluding affairs of the company which are outstanding because of what has been necessary or expedient for the purpose of making, or proceeding with, such an application,
(c) necessary or expedient for the purpose of complying with any statutory requirement, or
(d) specified for the purposes of this paragraph by the Department by order made subject to negative resolution.
(7) For the purposes of paragraph (4)(a), a company shall not be treated as trading or otherwise carrying on business by virtue only of the fact that it makes a payment in respect of a liability incurred in the course of trading or otherwise carrying on business.'.
No. 76, in page 77, line 11, leave out from 603D.--(1)' to For' in line 22.
No. 77, in page 77, leave out lines 44 to 47 and insert
(7) In Articles 603B and 603C, "disposal" includes part disposal.'.-- [Mr. Neil Hamilton.]
Amendment made : No. 78, in page 16, line 37, leave out by someone other than' and insert otherwise than by'.-- [Mr. Neil Hamilton.]
Mr. Sainsbury : I beg to move amendment No. 83, in page 18, line 21, at end insert
or subsection (3AA) of this section applies.
(3AA) This subsection applies where
(a) the person under fourteen, or a person in whose company he is, is consuming a meal purchased before the certificate ceased to be operational, and
(b) no more than thirty minutes have elapsed since the certificate ceased to be operational.'.
Madam Speaker : With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments : Government amendment No. 85.
No. 10, in schedule 6, page 81, line 11, after police', insert or any other person'.
No. 11, in page 81, line 22, after police', insert or any other person'.
No. 14, in page 81, line 25, after police', insert
or the person making the application, as the case may be,'. Government amendment No. 84.
Mr. Sainsbury : Amendments Nos. 83 and 84 fulfil an undertaking given in Committee. Under the children's certificate provisions as they stand, every certificate will cease to be operational at some predetermined time. That will normally be 9 o'clock in the evening, but it may be earlier or later in an individual case. Immediately a children's certificate has ceased to be operational, the provisions of section 168 of the Licensing Act 1964--under which it is a criminal offence for the licensee to allow, or anyone else to cause or procure, a young person under the age of 14 to be in a bar in licensed premises during permitted hours--automatically resume their application to the bar concerned.
The absolute nature of the "guillotine" thus imposed could cause problems for families with young children to whom a meal has been served in a bar in which a children's certificate was in force, shortly before the certificate ceased to be operational. Such a family might have insufficient time to complete their meal comfortably before they had to leave the bar so that neither they nor the licensee would be committing a criminal offence. Hon. Members with children and grandchildren will know that they cannot always be persuaded to eat up quickly. The provision would therefore seem unreasonable.
The amendment therefore makes provision for a period of up to 30 minutes eating-up time immediately after the children's certificate has ceased to be operational. That will apply only for the purpose of allowing a young person under 14, or the adult in whose company he or she is, to consume a meal purchased before the certificate ceased to be operational. The amendment offers a sensible solution to a minor practical problem identified during the passage of the Bill and I commend it to the House.
Column 262Amendment No. 85 fulfils the undertaking given to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) in Committee. It will require licensing justices who refuse to grant a children's certificate to give the unsuccessful applicant a written explanation of their reasons for refusing the application. That will, I am sure, introduce a greater element of transparency and openness into decision making in that context. It would also give unsuccessful applicants a better opportunity to consider, with their legal adviser as necessary, whether they have good grounds on which to exercise their right, for which the Bill already makes provision, to appeal to the Crown court against a justices' decision, or perhaps even to seek to have it reviewed in the High Court. I commend the amendments to the House. 10.15 pm
Mr. Fatchett : I welcome the Minister's words on amendments Nos. 83 and 85 and I am grateful to him for carrying out the commitments that were given in Committee. I shall not detain the House for any great length of time at this stage. However, the amendments in my name--Nos. 10, 11 and 14- -raised an especial point that came up in Committee, relating to the duration of children's certificates and the locus of various parties to appear before the licensing justices. I am advised that, despite the assurance given to me by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs the Bill as currently drafted would allow only an officer of the police and not any other person to appear and therefore would not be consistent with other legislation dealing with licences in that area. My amendments would therefore add "any other person", which I understand would be consistent with previous licensing legislation.
I do not intend to push the point much further at this stage. I believe that there is agreement between me and the Minister in terms of locus and if the Minister looks at the words and the commitments given by his colleague the Under-Secretary of State he will see that. Before the Bill goes to another place, may I ask the Minister to have another look at my amendments to see whether they are technically necessary ? Perhaps he would write to reassure me on that point.
Mr. Sainsbury : I am happy to confirm that I shall look carefully at what the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) said and I shall write to him. I hope that I will be able to reassure him that what is proposed in the Bill is consistent with other aspects of licensing legislation.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made : No. 85, in page 80, line 25, at end insert
2A. Where licensing justices refuse an application for a children's certificate, they shall specify their reasons in writing to the applicant.'.--[ Mr. Sainsbury. ]
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : I beg to move amendment No. 86, in page 19, leave out lines 25 to 35.
The amendment is intended to delete clause 17 and refers basically to the situation in Scotland where off-sales are not permitted on a Sunday. The amendment, by deleting clause 17, retains that restriction, which dates back to the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. It is important to many people in Scotland that the situation is maintained and that Sunday represents, in some respects, a day apart from others. I supported the recent moves in England to introduce supermarket and other shop opening for limited hours on Sunday in a way that brought English law into line with Scots law. We have had that facility for many years in Scotland and, to an extent, it has been well used. If anything, it has encouraged family participation in the shopping scenario at weekends.
Before giving my support to the reform of Sunday trading in England, I spent some time in the supermarkets in my constituency before the votes on the subject. I found that there was absolutely no problem arising from the fact that they had to shut off the licensing facilities on Sunday. The public accepted that and there was no great demand for such sales. It was widely accepted that that, in part, made Sunday different. When I spoke to those who ran town centre off-licences, they again said that there was no demand.
Somewhere along the line, something has changed and I am not sure why. As far as I can detect, there has been no real lobby in Scotland for that relaxation. I am aware that a small pressure group has raised the issue, but I feel that it is not a major issue of the day in the towns and villages of Scotland. I welcome the Bill, but I believe that clause 17 is neither necessary nor desirable. My concerns relate to under-age drinking and, in part, to those unfortunates who suffer from alcoholism. In terms of under-age drinking, I feel that there is no real problem with off-sales from pubs and hotels and, to an extent, from the small off-licences. However, when liquor gets on to the streets, much of it comes from the major stores and the supermarkets. That is not deliberate ; in many instances, there is no direct sale to young people. It comes about through volume trade in the larger stores and through secondary purchases-- youngsters who encourage others to buy drink for them. Problems arise, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, when youngsters take drink on to the streets and into the parks. Scots, at least, should expect one day in the week when that does not happen. Sunday should be maintained as it is.
Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart) : Is the hon. Gentleman therefore proposing that pubs and hotels in Scotland should not be allowed to serve drink to be consumed off the premises, as well as proposing that off-licences should not be opened ? What he suggests implies that.
Mr. Gallie : If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my words a moment ago, he would have heard me say that the problems did not exist with the pubs and the hotels. The problems exist with the volume sales in the supermarkets, as I remarked.
Under-age drinking is one thing the lot of the alcoholic,
Column 264which must also be considered, is another. There is a major problem here for the unfortunate individuals who drink whatever they can get their hands on. We see that with the sale of cheap, high-alcohol lagers, with fortified wines and, to an extent, with new drinks such as Buckfast. To open up the off-licences on Sunday would offer another temptation, present another problem, for people who suffer from that disease.
By going down that line, we are pushing at an open door. We have relaxed the law on Sunday trading and there is a constant push by the major superstores to seek further advantage. The time has come to say that enough is enough.
Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside) : Will my hon. Friend give way ?
Mr. Gallie : No, I must be fairly brief. I do not have time. We should look at our Christian heritage and our culture. We should not throw that away altogether. In Scotland, especially in the islands, we have managed to preserve Sundays. If we accept clause 17, we shall impose something on the people of Scotland which they do not want. I ask the House to support the amendment and, therefore, to reject clause 17.
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : It is a rare event for me to follow the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and support his amendment, although I do not necessarily accept every item in the arguments that he deployed this evening. It is all the stranger since, in the local elections last week, not many people supported the hon. Gentleman, given the loss of the three regional seats in the Ayr constituency. I fear that that is a severe warning for the future.
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester) : Cheap.
Mr. Robertson : I would say in answer to that that it is extremely expensive for the hon. Member for Ayr, whose wafer-thin majority is certainly no longer there to protect him.
This is an important issue. In Committee, the Minister for Industry, who has departed, said ;
"I recognise that there is genuine concern in Scotland about the measure."- -[ Official Report, Standing Committee F , 8 March 1994 ; c. 429.]
One must ask why the measure is in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, in which context it sits uneasily. It was not in the Conservative manifesto in Scotland at the election two years ago, and there has been little or no consultation about it with the public at large and little or no warning that it would appear in such a measure in this Parliament. As the hon. Member for Ayr pointed out, there is a slight suspicion that it is in response to a specific lobby that the House is being asked to legislate on this.
I must make it clear at the beginning of my remarks that for the Opposition --as, indeed, I believe for the Government--there will be a completely free vote when the amendment is pressed to a Division. My hon. Friends will not- -I underline this--be asked to support the hon. Member for Ayr as he has simply tabled the amendment in order to facilitate the debate and to get the Government off the procedural hook on which they found themselves in the Standing Committee. I hope that my hon. Friends will
Column 265listen to the argument that I shall deploy and, at the end of the debate, vote in favour of the hon. Gentleman's amendment and delete clause 17 from the Bill.
The law in Scotland was comprehensively changed by Parliament in 1976 following the Clayson committee report. Although the Clayson committee recommended that off-licences should be open on a Sunday, Parliament, in its wisdom in 1976 decided that that was one recommendation that it would not accept--1976 is a long time ago. Parliament had another opportunity to consider in some detail the form of the measure that we are talking about this evening. In 1990, when the Government introduced the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, there was another opportunity to debate the measure, but once again Parliament--this is not a partisan point because opinion differed across the board, and I shall come to that in a moment--decided that there should be no change to the law as it was established in 1976. We are talking about a period of three years between Parliament making a definitive decision--it was a definitive decision--not to change the law and the Government including a clause in this Bill to change it completely.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the provision ithe Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill was withdrawn in 1990 owing to lack of parliamentary time, not for any other reason ?
Mr. Robertson : On Second Reading in 1990, the Minister said that a great deal of time would be spent in Committee but it was not--the matter was dispensed with. Indeed, the hon. Members for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker)--the latter is here this evening--spoke against that provision on Second Reading.
Only three years later, the Government have introduced a comprehensive change to the law based on a single clause put into wholly inappropriate legislation. I suggest that the case that was put forward in 1990 for retaining the difference between the Scottish law and the situation in England remains as valid now as it was then. Our more liberal regime in Scotland does not need any alteration, and it should not be altered until there has been a review of the way in which it has operated up to now.
Unlike the hon. Member for Ayr, I am not articulating a keep Sunday special argument in this debate, although I recognise that some who will follow my advice tonight will do so for that precise reason. Hon. Members have been written to by the Church of Scotland's board of social responsibility, which has expressed a strong view that we should oppose the Government's proposal. I could hardly say that, since earlier this evening I voted for horse racing to take place on Sunday, and I did so consciously and consistent with all my views. 10.30 pm
I do not make this recommendation this evening because I hold illiberal views on the licensing laws in Scotland. I think that the liberalisation of the law in Scotland has been beneficial. It has worked well and has eliminated some of the anti-social consequences of the pre-existing legislation. Even if I held to those arguments, the reality is that people who want to buy alcohol to consume in their own home in Scotland can do so.
Column 266Although off-licences are not permitted to open for very good reasons, Parliament in 1990 and 1976 laid forth that pubs and hotels can sell alcohol.
Mr. Kynoch : The hon. Gentleman makes the point that anybody who wants to buy alcohol for consumption on Sunday in his own home can buy it from a pub, hotel or similar establishment, but the cost of the alcohol is much higher than it is in a supermarket. People can shop in a supermarket on Sunday, but when they reach the wine section the shutters are down. Does not the hon. Gentleman see an inconsistency there ? Does he not accept that those who want to keep Sunday special do not have to buy their alcohol on Sunday if they do not wish to ?
Mr. Robertson : First, I was not arguing for the keep Sunday special campaign in general terms in any event. Parliament decided in 1976 and in 1990 that the difference between pubs and hotels and off-licences is that there is a greater degree of control in the sale of alcohol from the licensed premises. That is distinct from the level of control that was anticipated then and that we have seen since then in off-licences and in licensed grocers. There is a major distinction. Yes, there is a price to pay. If people want to buy alcohol, they can do so, but they do so in regulated circumstances which perhaps prevent some of the excesses that were anticipated when the law was last looked at.
I ask the House to resist the change in the law because its consequences have simply not been thought through in relation to the peace and quiet of many citizens in Scotland today. I go back to some of the wise words which were expressed in 1990. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) in his speech in the Standing Committee brought together a number of sentiments that are worth repeating.
The hon. Member for Dumfries, who was not a Minister at the time, said on Second Reading :
"The provision allowing alcohol to be available at off-licences on Sundays will make control that much harder."--[ Official Report , 12 June 1990 ; Vol. 174, c. 198.]
The hon. Gentleman, who is not here this evening, is now a Scottish Office Minister. Although there is a free vote, there is no doubt some informal arrangement among those on the Government Front Bench which the Minister will explain.
The hon. Member for Tayside, North is here this evening and he may well speak for himself. I do not know whether he has changed his mind or whether he is still with us.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) rose
Mr. Robertson : Let me remind the hon. Gentleman of his words in 1990 before he intervenes.
"Like other hon. Members, I am concerned about supermarkets and off- licences and I hope that we can deal in detail with them in Committee."-- [ Official Report , 12 June 1990 ; Vol. 174, c. 206.]
Mr. Walker : I shall be brief. For the hon. Gentleman's benefit, I have changed my mind and I hope to explain why.
Mr. Robertson : It will be interesting to hear why the hon. Gentleman has changed his mind. He is a man of independent spirit on some occasions and we shall see whether he took an independent decision or he has changed his mind in response to any particular lobbying. I have quoted what he said in the previous debate.
Column 267In 1990, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland, the right and learned hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) said eventually that the opposition was so great that the Government would not pursue the matter. He has moved on to greater things in another area, and who knows what decision he will make this evening ? I believe that the law should not be changed until there has been a review of three specific points. I am not implacably opposed to the measure on principle, if on three grounds the Government can prove their case. First, some conclusions of the open-air drinking experimental byelaws upon which the Government embarked two years ago must be published and discussed. The Government rightly tested the idea of a ban on open-air drinking in the centres of Motherwell, Dundee and Galashiels. It was an extremely good experiment. The Government resisted allowing any other local authority in Scotland to adopt such byelaws, even though there was considerable demand for them to do so, until the experiment had been concluded.
The Government said that the experiment could be concluded only after a sensibly long period. That period apparently has finished, but the Government have not yet published the outcome of the experiment. We should not contemplate in one clause in one Bill a substantial change in the law when the experiment that the Government themselves set up has not yet had a chance to prove itself one way or another.
The reality today is that in so many housing estates across Scotland open- air drinking is becoming the norm rather than the exception. All Members of Parliament have found that people complain bitterly about it. The problem is not confined to the centres of towns. In many cases, it is a problem on peripheral housing estates.
Mr. Bill Walker : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I moved amendments to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill on open-air drinking and under-age drinking ? I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not here to support me when I moved those amendments.
Mr. Robertson : I understand that the Government refused to accept the hon. Gentleman's amendments. We acknowledge that there is a demand for implementation of the byelaws in a large number of towns throughout Scotland. The Government have an experiment in place which they say we must allow to finish. They say that the conclusions must be published before they will allow such byelaws to be implemented. Surely to goodness the Government should not legislate until they have the results of the experiment, have published them and have had them debated. I firmly believe that that is part and parcel of the subject that we are discussing today.
The reality is that a large number of youngsters purchase alcohol, or have alcohol purchased for them, in off-licences and consume it in the streets round about. Scottish Take Home News is published as a supplement to the Scottish Licensed Trade News . It is a worthwhile publication which I have received for many years. It has a front-page headline this week about Smugglers Off Sales in Saltcoats. I am not certain whether any of my hon. Friends from Cunninghame are here this evening.
The headline is :
"Licensee survives local authority supervision bid. Council hits at off- sales".
The story is of the licensee of an off-licence in Saltcoats
Column 268who almost lost her licence as a consequence of under-age drinking outside the premises. The article says that Mrs. Eileen Scott, the proprietor of the Smugglers off-licence
"who had previously been fined £200 for selling drink to under-agers, says she's paranoid' about youngsters around her shop who still attempt to buy alcohol and who regularly bribe or threaten older people to buy it for them."
The article goes on :
"Mrs. Scott is angry at the older men who buy alcohol for youngsters. She claims that some unemployed men in the area buy alcohol for under-age drinkers for £1.
We have been weeding it out, but it is difficult when somebody is left in the shop and gives the alcohol to others. I have been out in the street chasing children up town and phoning the police if kids are loitering with intent'."
That is only example, but it is part and parcel of the picture across Scotland.
The second matter that needs to be reviewed before such a change in the law is contemplated is the anomaly created by the fact that, under the law, people under 18 are not allowed to buy alcohol but are allowed to consume it, even on the streets. Again, the reality is that it is all too easy, even where the holder of the off-licence is law-abiding, for such individuals to purchase alcohol. Some of the drink in question is of very high strength. It includes spirits and the famous Buckfast fortified wine. It includes also new exotic beers with alcohol strengths of 9 to 11 per cent.--very close to the strength of wine--many of which are brewed in Scotland. They are very powerful, especially in some of the lethal cocktails that are consumed today.
There is something at least anomalous, and perhaps daft, about a situation in which it can be a serious criminal offence for an off-licensee to sell alcohol to, or for an adult to buy alcohol for, youngsters but those youngsters may consume it legally, even if they are causing a major problem for the surrounding area. Recently I spoke to a policeman who strongly supported the campaign on this subject in which I was involved. He said that on many occasions he had taken alcohol from youngsters and poured it down a drain but worried that, in taking away other people's property, he was himself committing a criminal offence in the course of his public service. In that respect the law is in need of careful examination in advance of any change.
The third ground for a review before legislation is passed relates to the need for an investigation by the Scottish Office into the number of off- licences that are granted. We are given the easy comparison between England and Wales, where off-licences are open on Sunday, and Scotland where, anomalously, they are not. Tradition and culture in England and Wales are, I submit, almost completely different from those in Scotland. There is a tradition of very small licensed grocers who are willing and able to sell alcohol at any time of the day or night. I seriously believe that the Government must examine carefully the facility with which grocers can secure licences and must consider whether a tough enough regime has been put in place.
As the Department of Trade and Industry has conceded, this is an important subject that gives rise to anxiety. We have an obligation to people who have some right to respite from a plague that afflicts so many for six out of every seven days. If that plague could be dealt with effectively in some other way, if the Government have a proposal in mind, if they carry out a review of the three sectors that I have suggested should be investigated and if they can