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12.45 pm

Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East): I do not know how often the right hon. Gentleman has ordered goods on the internet, although he mentioned ordering

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from We in Leeds cannot do that as we have no Waitrose. However, there are many other such suppliers. Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge that credit or debit card details on the internet are registered in a secure form with the web page through a password? That offers some protection against a 15-year-old clicking on to the website's history page, finding out the password, logging in and extracting credit card details. If an under-age drinker has the card in his or her hand that is different, but card details, once registered, are usually released by using the password. So long as people keep their password to themselves, they should be secure.

Mr. Maclean: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but, given the huge growth of online supermarket shopping, it is not unreasonable to think that many households will carry out the boring task of grocery shopping over the internet, even though that is not a fast way to shop. It is sometimes quicker to whiz around the supermarket than to access the registers of all the different household goods that people want. Members with children aged 12 and upwards will be better able to comment than I am, but is it not likely that parents will say to their children, "Get on with it and order the groceries. Here's the list of the stuff that we need. Here is my password; order the toilet rolls and the bleach"? Those children might spend two hours ordering the basic essentials.

That is not a fanciful scenario; it will happen more and more. Internet shopping may be exciting the first couple of times, but it can become pretty boring if people have to order dozens of items. In such circumstances, youngsters will have ready access to the internet because parents will give it to them. Most children will not abuse that access by ordering a crate of booze on their parents' credit card, but I suspect that we shall have to return to the measure in a couple of years because developments on the internet and with delivery mechanisms and the little matters that we do not spot today will create loopholes. We are trying to amend the 1964 Act, which contained no concept of internet shopping or ordering by telephone. Clever criminals will exploit that, but it is more likely that clever youngsters with changing life styles and attitudes will create problems, which the House will have to solve. I shall now move on from that point because we have flagged it up enough.

I am tempted by amendment No. 26, under which the word "person" would be replaced with the term "an employee or agent", because it deals with the problem in the tragic David Knowles case of 1997. The word "person" has been used for the person who is under 18--the potential buyer--and the person who may be selling. We do not want to use the word "licensee", because doing so was the problem: it was far too restrictive and we wanted it to cover the manager, the shop owner and the part-time salesperson. However, I am unsure whether replacing the highly restrictive term "licensee", which has a specific legal meaning, with "person" would go too far and be too vague. We want to catch the licensee and his employees and his agents--the staff. That is the problem, is it not? I am not sure whether the use of the terminology "any person" is the right approach. I am tempted to

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support, at least in spirit, amendments tabled by Labour Members that delete the word "person" and insert "employee or agent".

Mr. Gardiner: I see the right hon. Gentleman's point, but he will be conscious of the fact that the loophole that the Bill seeks to address came about from wording that referred to

Trends in the sale of liquor have developed since then. In 1964 when the original Bill was drafted, it was not predicted that people would be employed by company chains and would not be servants of the licensee. In 20 or 30 years' time, there may be further developments, and a restricted wording such as the right hon. Gentleman proposes would no longer be appropriate and a loophole would arise similar to the one that we are now trying to plug.

Mr. Maclean: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. It is always wise never to assume that we are passing legislation that is loophole free and will last a lifetime--or more than one Parliament. No Government like to admit that they may have to return to their legislation in a few years' time, whether it is on dangerous dogs or anything else. We stand here, especially on Fridays as we discuss Third Readings, and say that we have passed perfect legislation that will ensure that a problem never happens again.

In a fast-moving, technological world with e-commerce, with rapidly changing attitudes and with young people becoming more and more sophisticated, the wise course is to say that we are passing legislation that probably deals with every problem that we can envisage at the moment, but next year we may have to reconsider it to deal with another matter. That is no slight on the promoter of the Bill or the Government. It is a recognition of how fast things are moving in today's world.

Mr. Efford: Can the right hon. Gentleman help me? What is the definition of "agent"? Would a computer be defined as an agent of someone selling alcohol?

Mr. Maclean: I honestly do not know, but a computer would certainly not be defined as a person, so that could be a loophole. A computer would have a better chance of being defined as an agent than as a person. We either use the word "person" and do not define it, or we include in the Bill references to "employee", "agent", "servant" and "licensee". That could be messy and may miss out a category of person who is employed or may next year be employed, such as internet salesgirls. We could use the term "person" and provide that "persons" shall include employees, agents, computer technology, virtual reality purchasing systems or whatever. Labour Members have tabled an amendment to delete the word "person" and have suggested the term "employee" or "agent", and we must have the Minister's reassurance on the matter.

I am conscious that the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Brown) and some of my hon. Friends have been trying to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and we want details from the Minister before we move on to the next group of amendments, so I shall conclude my

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remarks on amendment No. 53. I was going to talk about the term "or similar facility", which my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst has suggested, but that has been discussed enough for the Minister to respond.

I am not sure that we should accept amendment No. 53, which would apply the same licensing laws or the same general body of law to the House of Commons or the Palace of Westminster as apply to other organisations. The Bill mainly applies to off-licences and bars. There may be quite a few Bars in this place, and I suppose that our shop may be considered an off-licence, but it is not the primary purpose of this legislature to sell alcohol, especially to children, or to conduct the commercial activities that are the primary purposes covered by new section 169.

It is perfectly right to say that we will not apply licensing legislation carte blanche to the Palace of Westminster. How do we deal with the valid point raised by the hon. Member for Garston who said that we should set an example? If we pass a Bill saying that people outside this Palace should not buy liquor for those under 18, or should not commit any of the offences laid down here, what do we do to set an example? If we are minded to act in that respect and we want to apply the same precepts of criminal law inside this Palace, I suggest that we simply amend our internal rules. We do not have to apply every jot and tittle of every Act of Parliament.

I am sure that we could condense the proposals of the Bill into one clause in parliamentary terms. The Bill must be complex because there will be licensees and sellers with clever lawyers who will try to get around the law. The purpose of making the Bill complex is to avoid loopholes. We should not need complex laws applying to conduct in the House of Commons.

Behind the Chair, in the Corridor, is a notice which--wrongly, in my opinion--forbids us from having a cigarette. When one is tense in the Chamber, one can no longer go out for a quick fag to calm one's nerves. I do not smoke cigarettes myself, but I respect the right of others to do so. I have not seen anyone break that law in the Corridor, the Library or anywhere else where the anti-smoking noose is tightening around the poor souls who need a fag now and again. However, we do not need a huge Act of Parliament for that--there is simply a notice, by order of the Serjeant at Arms, forbidding smoking here, there and everywhere else. People obey; if they do not, the House applies its own sanctions.

Mr. Gardiner: The right hon. Gentleman talks about the regulations governing conduct in this House, which do not go to the heart of parliamentary privilege. Amendment No. 53 concerns parliamentary privilege because the licensing laws as they stand do not apply to royal palaces or to the House of Commons and House of Lords. It is not a question of having a large Bill to remedy that. It is not a complex process; it is simply a matter of implementing an extremely simple amendment to the Bill, so that the whole of the Bill applies to the House of Commons in the same way as it does outside.

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