Previous SectionIndexHome Page


12.30 pm

My next question is why we are not to drop "knowingly" from new section 169B. That appears to be inconsistent. I do not challenge the order of selection, but it has to be said that it forces us to wrestle with widely varying concepts. It is not fair to ask the Minister why the previous Government, of which I was a member, maintained the word "knowingly" in the section 169B offence, while it was apparently legitimate in 1988 to omit

12 May 2000 : Column 1157

"knowingly" from the section 169A offence. Perhaps it is more appropriate to ask him why the current Government think that "knowingly" should be maintained--if, indeed, that is their policy. If the Minister intends to reject the amendments to remove the word "knowingly" from new sections 169B and 169F, what is the justification for that, given that the Government may choose not to reinsert it in new section 169A? That appears to impose a far heavier burden of proof.

Mr. Heald: Might the answer to that question be found in a contractual interpretation of the relationship, if there is one, between the person selling and the person permitting the sale of intoxicating liquor to a person under 18? Would it not be wrong to say that the latter is guilty of an offence, just because there is an employer-employee contractual relationship? Surely, the mischief only occurs if it is done "knowingly"?

Mr. Maclean: I take my hon. Friend's point. In the legislative process, it is always helpful to have a certain number of lawyers present, and his presence on the Opposition Front Bench, with that of the hon. Member for Garston on the Government Benches, gives welcome aid to our deliberations.

As I said, I originally had much to say about the word "knowingly", but the hon. Lady's speech has enabled me to curtail my remarks. I am conscious that other hon. Members want to contribute and that we all want progress to be made. However, I want to comment on the amendments that would add to new section 169A(1) the words "from" or "through", after "in", with the result that it would read:


or "from" licensed premises, or "through" licensed premises--


I am not sure which of the two words suggested is the best, but I approve of the concept behind both. I would be persuaded not to support them--I hasten to say that I do not want to force any Divisions today, lest that disturb the relationship that the hon. Member for Pudsey has carefully built up with both sides of the House and with Ministers to ensure smooth passage for his legislation--only if the Minister said that the amendments were absolutely unnecessary, because the phrase "in licensed premises" does not mean strictly within the four walls of such premises, but can encompass, conceptually or legally, liquor being sold from licensed premises, or through the medium of licensed premises.

That brings me to the important subject of internet sales. I have tried internet sales for intoxicating liquor, or rather, wine. If one admits to purchasing intoxicating liquor, some strict Presbyterian constituent may write and complain about a Member of Parliament touching such filthy stuff. I was merely referring to wine, which of course still is intoxicating liquor, but does not sound as bad.

Internet sales seem to work reasonably well, and one gets delivery promptly, at the time that one specifies. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) is no longer in his place. Only last week, I tried out Waitrose.com and, with a bit of luck, there will

12 May 2000 : Column 1158

be a delivery through our new incoming mail, courier and parcel service, which the Department of the Serjeant at Arms has set up. I may get a delivery to my office fridge any day now.

There is a whole new medium for selling intoxicating liquor. I come back to my earlier intervention: we are amending the Licensing Act 1964. In 1964, the mediums for selling intoxicating liquor were off-licences--whether on tick in West Kilbride or not--or pubs. I am not sure whether any supermarket had a licence to sell liquor then, but I suspect not. I do not recall, and I cannot find in the Library paper, a reference to the first time that a supermarket could sell intoxicating liquor. That may have been in the 1960s, but it is more likely that that boom occurred in the 1970s.

It is understandable, therefore, that when Home Office officials briefed the parliamentary draftsmen in 1964 to deal with the problem and amend previous legislation, they thought about the ways in which liquor could get into the hands of young people. They could go to a pub and get it; they could go to an off-licence and get it. Consequently, the law was drafted to deal with the people who would sell liquor from a pub or from an off-licence, and the people who would go in and buy it from a pub or an off-licence.

Now we have telephone ordering and fax facilities, but internet ordering in particular offers a new outlet and delivery mechanism. People no longer need physically enter a licensed premises. Alcohol can be delivered by a organisation that presumably has a licence to sell and distribute liquor. I assume that Waitrose.com, Tesco.com or other .co.uk firms such as Safeway, all the other supermarket chains and Bordeaux Direct have a warehouse somewhere which is licensed to supply. I am not sure under which part of the Act, or what the mechanism is, and it may not technically be licensed premises, but the company will have a licence to distribute intoxicating liquor to individuals in their homes.

Section 169 does not on the face of it deal with those possibilities. It refers to a person being guilty of an offence "in licensed premises". We need reassurance from the Minister about the applicability of the provisions of the 1964 Act to internet and e-mail sales and whether there are provisions elsewhere.

Mr. Phil Woolas (Oldham, East and Saddleworth): In the right hon. Gentleman's experience of ordering wine by e-mail from supermarkets, wine clubs and so on, which is now a widespread practice, have there been any checks on his age? Did that feature in the transaction?

Mr. Maclean: None at all. There may be a box on the web page to tick if one is under 18. In one case, there was a warning that the company did not sell to anyone under 18.

I do not have children, but I know people with children who are 15 and older. Once Dad or Mum's credit card is registered with Safeway or Tesco, anyone in the household can use it to order items from the internet. One hears of cases--not cases of the 12-bottle kind--of parents discovering that their offspring, aged 15, 16, 17 or 18, have ordered items from the web. Nothing on the wine suppliers' web pages prevents young people from ordering alcohol. Suppliers are interested only in the

12 May 2000 : Column 1159

credit card number. There is no way of checking up, and suppliers can depend only on the honesty of the person who claims to be over 18.

Mr. Gardiner: The primary check is the credit card, as cards they are not available to someone who is not yet 18. However, the right hon. Gentleman is correct to say that, if someone who is under 18 fraudulently claims to be the owner of a credit card, any number of boxes to tick will make no difference because the initial fraud is impersonation of a credit card holder.

Mr. Maclean: I accept that point. A company that supplies wine or any intoxicating liquor, ordered through the internet with a credit card is probably entitled to rely on the customer's honesty about age. It could probably use the defence that it had no reason to suspect that the customer was under 18. When asked why, a company could say, "A credit card was used, therefore the customer had to be over 18, my lord."

In the real world, many parents who are satisfied with the honesty and integrity of their 17 or 16-year-olds will happily trust them to order items. [Interruption.] Wise parents opposite say that they would never do that. However, families will order drinks for a party or for Christmas. Children are experts in technology and the web. Their parents may not be such experts, and they may ask the children to get onto the Tesco website and order a bottle of this and a case of that. The children may ask, "Can I have your credit card number, Dad?" He may reply, "Here it is. Don't use it again without my permission." That is use with parental consent.

There will be other cases. If colleagues have ordered anything from the internet, they will know that computer-literate children can look up the history page, go into "favourites", or look at the registration details and pick up the credit card number. They can thus order anything without parental consent. They must of course face parental wrath, however administered.

The legal point is that the Bill is not designed around the new technology and the new possibilities, which are not fanciful. It is invidious to cite a supermarket from which I rarely shop, Tesco, and thus give it an unnecessary advantage, but it boasted a couple of weeks ago that it would create 10,000 new jobs because of its internet sales. A large part of its internet sales is alcohol. The internet is the big growth industry. It is therefore reasonable to assume from all the forecasts for web sales that, in two or three years, most alcohol will change hands, from whichever source, through the internet.

Some hon. Members and I have asked whether various clauses are internet proof. We have discussed proposed new section 169F, which covers delivery. There may be a loophole there because subsection (4) does not apply



Next Section

IndexHome Page