Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston): Is my hon. Friend absolutely clear that the rationale would be the same for each of these offences? They range from people selling alcohol, allowing somebody under their control to sell it, purchasing alcohol and sending someone else to purchase it. Is the rationale for the amendments exactly the same for all those offences?

Mr. Gardiner: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. The amendments make precisely the distinction to which she refers, between the sale of intoxicating liquor to a person under 18 and a licensee or manager allowing such a sale to take place. It is important that licensees should be totally in control of the situation on the licensed premises in which they operate and over which they have authority.

In the original tragic case to which I referred, which inspired my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey to introduce the Bill, I believe that the manager of the premises was not, even in the first instance, considered for prosecution by the police because he was deemed to have taken all appropriate steps in training and advising staff of the dangers of selling alcohol to minors. Therefore, only the staff who had actually sold the alcopops to the young man were initially subject to prosecution, which, sadly, had to be dropped at the third attempt by the Crown Prosecution Service after the case had been delayed.

I thank my hon. Friend for having raised that point. It is important that managers and licensees are in control when they allow sales by people under their authority in the pub--their agents. They must appreciate all the different ways in which alcohol can be provided--not just through sale but through other methods of supply.

Amendment No. 30 relates to proposed new section 169C of the 1964 Act, which deals with the purchase of intoxicating liquor by or for a person under 18. The Bill provides that a person under 18

Previous parts of the Bill deal with agents on licensed premises--the licensee or manager--and this part creates an offence if someone under age seeks to obtain

12 May 2000 : Column 1123

intoxicating liquor on the premises. I use the word "obtain" because it reflects the intention of my amendment. The Bill should not cover only attempts to buy, because alcohol can be provided in different ways, including exchange, gift or credit, and those should be taken into account.

Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way. It seems sensible to try to close what might be a loophole, but can he give some statistics or assess the proportion of alcohol obtained, but not purchased, by those under 18? How serious a problem is that?

Mr. Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Alcohol is provided to minors in many different ways in public houses. Many Members may be unaware that young people may legally obtain liquor on licensed premises. The hon. Gentleman may be as surprised as I was to learn that a 17-year-old may not buy intoxicating liquor at the bar of a public hostelry, but an 18-year-old may buy it, take it into the garden and--perfectly legally--provide beer, wine or even spirits to a child of only 10 or 11. That flies in the face of all that we want.

Maria Eagle: Parts of my constituency have a thriving black economy in which the bartering, swapping and giving of alcohol and other consumer goods--virtually anything one could want--occurs. I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern to define as tightly as possible. From experience, I can tell him that these things go on, even if it is not possible to produce statistics for the black economy.

Mr. Gardiner: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and well aware of the ways in which children engage in barter and exchange. My eight-year-old son, Cameron, has not yet graduated to barter and exchange for alcohol--nor will he, I trust--but Pokemon cards are a frequent source of conflict in the playground and elsewhere in my community. No doubt, many parents would sympathise with me on that score.

The hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) asked about the amount of alcohol consumed by minors. In a 1998 survey of 14 to 15-year-olds, more than 50 per cent. of males and females said that they had, in the past seven days, obtained at least one of the following in one form or another: spirits, Martini, Cinzano, fortified wine, wine, alcopops, cider, low-alcohol beer, beer, lager or shandy. That is a startling statistic from a reputable study backed by the Department of Health's statistical bulletin. Many studies have been made, including by the Portman Group, of alcohol drinking and abuse among minors. It is vital to make the law as tight as possible. Amendment No. 30 would, therefore, make provision for forms of supply other than purchase, such as exchange, gift and credit.

Amendment No. 32 would add a similar provision to proposed new section 169C(2), which states:

The amendment would again reinforce the Bill by ensuring that drinks cannot be passed on by a proxy.

12 May 2000 : Column 1124

Amendment No. 39 deals with the delivery of intoxicating liquor to a person under 18. Proposed new section 169F(1) states:

at which point I would insert "or otherwise obtained from"--

I thought carefully about that amendment as there are different forms of delivery.

The hon. Member for Lichfield has outlined the case of provision for someone else, and handing over intoxicating liquor to a person under 18 constitutes delivery of the sort that we wish to exclude. However, there is a form of delivery that may be perfectly proper, and I am pleased that the proposed new section takes account of that at subsection (4), which states:

The intention is not to stop a person--perhaps a trainee or a young man aged under 18--who, in the course of gainful employment, takes delivery of a consignment of alcohol. That would not be an offence.

10 am

Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that my interventions are intended to be constructive so as to clarify a worthwhile measure. He might be aware that about 12 per cent. of all the alcohol consumed in the United Kingdom is imported through the channel ports. I was especially interested in this subsection because it refers to the delivery of alcohol. Does he believe that the provision and his amendment would cover the importation of alcohol that is then delivered to people aged under 18 for drinking at parties and so on?

Mr. Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. The clause is not intended--nor should it be--to reinforce Customs and Excise provisions. Hon. Members are well aware of the smuggling problem. As the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, smuggled alcohol affects young people and under-age drinkers disproportionately because, as it is already illicit, it is sold on the black market, so the scrupulous controls exercised on licensed premises by licensees and their agents do not obtain.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): The hon. Gentleman has not quite addressed the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant). Alcohol coming in through the channel ports does not necessarily break Customs and Excise rules, nor is it always sold on the black market. Customs rules allow the import of alcohol bought in France for personal use. My understanding of that is that it would apply to a party.

If one showed an invitation--for example, to a 21st birthday party--Customs and Excise would allow alcohol to be brought in for personal use. Under the proposed amendment, it would be an offence for a person to buy a couple of cases of beer from an off-licence in Britain for

12 May 2000 : Column 1125

a family party where under-18s were allowed to drink it, but if the alcohol for the party was bought in France it would not be an offence because it had not been bought in the UK. Is there not a conflict?

Mr. Gardiner: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying the intervention made by the hon. Member for Lichfield. I had not appreciated the full import of his question. However, the answer is no. The clause states:

and, if my amendment is accepted--"or otherwise obtained from"--

The intoxicating liquor has to be obtained from those premises by someone employed there, so a person who imported intoxicating liquor from abroad would not be affected by the provision.

Mr. Paice: I beg to differ with the hon. Gentleman. Proposed new section 169C(2) states:

Surely that means that if I bought a couple of cases of beer from an off-licence or a pub--knowing that I was going to make it available for under-18s--I should be guilty of an offence. That is why the provisions could be conflicting when liquor is imported.

Next Section

IndexHome Page