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Mr. Fabricant: Was it the prerogative of the House to decide whether that person or anyone else could be arrested, or was the law such that he could be arrested whatever view the House took about it?

12 May 2000 : Column 1176

2 pm

Mr. O'Brien: If I remember correctly, the matter is set out at some length in "Erskine May" on page 70.

Mr. Heald: Page 74.

Mr. O'Brien: I thank the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Lichfield can study the matter in some depth. The issue is somewhat convoluted, but essentially the position is that a person may be arrested here. In the case to which I referred, Lord Cochrane was arrested in the Chamber, but the House was adjourned so it was not sitting at the time.

In 1987, the Privileges Committee decided that Members were not privileged solely on the ground that they were in the precincts of the House. In Bradlaugh v. Gosset in the 1880s, Judge Stephen said that he knew of no authority for the proposition that an ordinary crime committed in the House of Commons would be exempt from the course of criminal justice. He made an exemption of anything that was said, because it is clear that the House has decided that whatever is said during our proceedings and procedures is proper.

I reassure the hon. Member for Lichfield that, according to "Erskine May", apart from the case of Sir John Eliot in 1629, no charge has been brought against a Member of the House for an act committed while in Parliament. That should reassure us that we can run our affairs reasonably well, at least within the precincts of Parliament. That being said, it would be unwise for any MP to try to commit an offence.

Until now, the view of the House has been that Parliament should not be brought within the licensing laws. If we should decide to change that position, we should do so in the context of a broader debate about licensing law. The best approach is to allow the procedures of the House, the Committees and the usual channels to consider whether the licensing laws should be amended. I am sure that the Catering Committee would want to express a view, as would hon. Members. Until that debate is held, it would be better if my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North did not press amendment No. 53.

I have gone through each of the issues rather than each of the many amendments, some of which would do much the same thing. I have suggested that significant points should be dealt with in a broader context and in a wider debate. The effect of the amendments that raise narrower issues would not be in keeping with what this focused Bill seeks to achieve.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey has done the House a service by bringing this matter to our notice. He has worked hard to get the drafting of the Bill right. Many of the points that hon. Members have raised have been covered by him rather well. On that basis, I ask all hon. Members to support the Bill as drafted by my hon. Friend.

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his remarks on the two amendments in my name. The Bill plugs the loophole in the law that exempted people from prosecution in the tragic case of David Knowles, but it also raises wider issues on our licensing laws. I am grateful to the Minister for referring to a future debate and possible legislation on our licensing laws, and we all look forward to that.

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The report from the taskforce on under-age alcohol misuse was interesting, as those involved had talked to people aged between 10 and 17, who may be under-age drinkers. They were asked adult questions, such as if they drank alcohol, where was a safe place to do so. They said in a bus shelter, behind a building, in a car park, or on a recreation ground. To them, "safe" meant where police, parents and teachers would not see them, and they were exactly the kind of places that most adults would believe to be unsafe for children, especially if they were drinking alcohol.

The report says a lot about the attitudes of young people to drinking. The thrill or buzz that a lot of young people get from doing something unlawful should be borne in mind, and we need to move towards a more civilised approach to drinking generally. It is clearly proper for parents to introduce their children to alcohol sensibly at home, by means of a glass of wine with a meal, for example. However, we have a culture in this country--particularly with regard to boys and young men--which is often damaging to them. They see drinking as something that they must learn to do; they must learn to increase their capacity. If they can manage to drink a great many pints, they become men. They learn that from peer pressure.

The report was interesting on the subject of what young people drank, such as alcopops. The young people said that they did not drink alcopops but the industry suggests that those drinks are being sold to young people, mostly in their teens. However, the young people did not like drinking something that was meant for teenagers, and thought themselves more sophisticated than that.

I give maximum respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell) for his hard work on the Bill in the wake of the tragedy to which he referred. As a legislature, we must find ways of preventing such an avoidable tragedy from being repeated.

Mr. Gardiner: Having listened carefully to the debate, and with deference to the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister, who pointed out that it was critical that the Bill should be closely defined, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

Maria Eagle: I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 1, leave out lines 11 to 14.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 21, in page 1, line 13, leave out--


'had no reason to suspect that the person was under'

and insert--


'believed the person to be over'.

No. 7, in page 1, leave out lines 15 to 19.

No. 22, in page 1, line 17, leave out "some other person" and insert "an employee or agent".

No. 52, in page 1, line 19, at end insert--


'(3A) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) of this section to show that the person under eighteen produced evidence at the time of sale purportedly showing him to be eighteen or over.'.

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No. 16, in page 1, line 28, at end insert--


'(2A) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) of this section to prove that he had no reason to suspect that the person was under eighteen.
(2B) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (1) of this section to prove that he exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence under that subsection.'.

No. 33, in page 2, line 14, leave out--


'had no reason to suspect that the person was under'

and insert--


'believed the person to be over'.

No. 11, in page 2, line 36, at end insert--


'(4) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (2) of this section, where he is charged by reason of his own act, to prove that he had no reason to suspect that the person was under eighteen.
(5) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under subsection (2) of this section, where he is charged by reason of the act or default of some other person, to prove that he exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence under that subsection.'.

No. 77, in page 3, line 33, at end insert--


'169I. Without prejudice to any defence otherwise available under any provision of this Act, it shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 169A, 169B, 169C, 169E, 169F or 169G of this Act to prove--
(a) that he had no reason to suspect that the person was under eighteen, or
(b) that he exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of an offence.'.

Maria Eagle: Given that this group of amendments was tied in with the first group, which we have discussed extensively, I shall do no more than move the amendment.

Mrs. Eileen Gordon (Romford): I strongly support the Bill.

I want to talk about proof of age, which is mentioned in many of the amendments. I want to set the matter in the context of the particular situation in my community. Six or seven years ago, South street in Romford was practically derelict. Shops were boarded up and it was an awful place to walk. Now it has been revitalised by a large number of clubs and pubs. As well as bringing new life to the area, they have brought some problems, mainly involving the large influx of young people at evenings and weekends. One of the problems is under-age drinking in Romford town centre.

The pubs and clubs are on the whole parts of large, well-known chains. They have respectable management and do what they can to ensure that there is no under-age drinking, but--my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) alluded to this--many young people see drinking as a rite of passage into adulthood. They see it as a challenge to get into pubs and clubs that they are not supposed to be in. For 16-year-olds it is a big badge of achievement to get into an over-18s club.

There are problems of monitoring who goes into the pubs and clubs and who consumes alcohol. A lot has been done. I have talked to my local licensing officer about how the problem is dealt with. All licensees are instructed by police in the London borough of Havering on the forms of proof of age and identification that are acceptable. Unfortunately, there are many forgeries in circulation.

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However much I admire the Portman Group and its "Prove It" card, it has become discredited in our area because of all the forgeries. The police consider that in Havering, which includes Romford town centre, the only acceptable forms of identification are passports and the new style of driving licence with a photograph on it.

I would not like to go out in the evening carrying my passport. My two children are just out of their teenage years. I cannot imagine my daughter, with her evening dress on and a tiny purse, wanting to carry a passport. Many young people are in the town centre without proof of identity.


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