Criminal Justice and Police Bill

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Mr. Hughes: May I take the Minister back to amendment No. 5? It concerns someone being prosecuted for selling drink to someone under age when the test says that no one could reasonably have suspected from his appearance that he was under 18. Will he reflect on the question of objectivity? Strict liability should be used only with the most careful approach.

Mr. Clarke: I emphasise that there is no obligation on the licensee or retailer to sell. I have no right to go into an off licence and demand that beer be sold to me. If there is any doubt, there is no obligation to sell. The British Institute of Innkeeping says in its advice to the trade that, if there is any doubt, one should not sell. That should be the position, particularly in respect of alcohol and young people. If there is doubt, the sale should not be made.

Not long ago, I visited several off licences in the Wirral where sales were taking place to young people who were drinking high-proof alcohol in parks. I discussed that with the licensees and the retailers and they accepted the point that, along with a proof-of-age card, they need a regime that reinforces their ability to take such action and become involved in partnerships with the police and others to help them. That is the thinking behind the clause. With that, I hope that hon. Members will not press the amendments.

Mr. Heald: I stress that, apart from the organisations that I have already mentioned, I have also discussed the matter with the BLRA, Whitbread, Shepherd Neame, McMullen's and other big companies involved in the industry. They feel very strongly the urgency of the Government's deciding what proof of age should be. I want to stress that point and press as strongly as I can the urgency of the problem. We need a solution. On that basis, I will not press our amendments to a vote.

11.15 am

Jackie Ballard: Having listened to the Minister's arguments and having thought further about the matter, I still agree with my hon. Friend for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that ``nobody could'' is a high test. The amendment, to say ``he could not'', could be criticised for allowing too much leeway. On reflection, a better amendment would have been ``a reasonable person could not''. I take on board the debate on a proof-of-age card scheme. The inexorable logic leans towards an objective test. The only way of ensuring that there is no doubt is to ask for such a scheme, but I would be grateful if the Minister would consider an alternative wording of ``no reasonable person''. On those grounds, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Mr. Hood. In preparing for the debate this morning, I realised that I needed to refer to the Licensing Act 1964. I was surprised to find that the Act as amended is not available in the Committee. The Library staff told me that, as far as they understand from volume 24 of the fourth edition of ``Halsburys Statutes'', no alteration is shown in the supplement, but it is plain from the references in the Bill that the Act has been amended since it was passed in 1964. I am at a disadvantage because I have to ask the Minister about references to the Act that I want to make in my remarks. Surely every Act to which a Bill refers ought to be available in the Committee Room, and not only those that the Clerks may deem important, especially given the wretchedly little time that we have and the speed with which we must consider the Bill in detail.

The Chairman: Although I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, I am advised that availability of information to the Committee is a matter for the Chair, and it is my view that the information, if not exactly to the hon. Gentleman's satisfaction, is in order for the Committee.

Mr. Charles Clarke: Further to that point of order, Mr. Hood. If the Government can help with any of the material that the Committee and, in particular, the hon. Member for Reigate are looking for, I am happy to make a commitment that we will try to do that. The hon. Gentleman is right—the Committee needs to have all the material available. We will look at the matter and see what can be done to help the Committee and the hon. Gentleman.

Clause 33

Enforcement of certain offences relating to under-age drinking

Mr. Blunt: I beg to move amendment No. 135 in page 25, leave out lines 5 to 8.

The Chairman: With this we will take the following amendments: No. 47, in page 25, line 17 at end add—

    `(4) A constable or an inspector of weights and measures may only request that a person under eighteen buy or attempt to buy intoxicating liquor, or send such a person to buy such liquor, where that constable or inspector has reasonable grounds to believe that an offence under section 169A or 169B of the Licensing Act 1964 has been committed on the premises in question within the preceding six months.'.

No. 108, in page 25, line 17, at end insert—

    `( ) The Secretary of State shall issue guidance—

    (a) about requests made by constables and inspectors to persons under 18 in accordance with this section;

    (b) about the manner in which purchases and attempted purchases are to be made under this section;

    (c) with a view to encouraging good practice in connection with the operation of this section.'.

Mr. Blunt: I preface my remarks by making it clear that it is difficult for Back Benchers to suggest sensible amendments to Bills given all the other demands on our time as Members of Parliament. For example, under the programming motion that was approved earlier today, the Committee will have an extra sitting at the same time as an important evidence-taking sitting of the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and the Regions, on which I am supposed to be serving. I will therefore have to make an uncomfortable choice about my priorities, in exactly the same way as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. We are trying to complete a vast amount of detailed scrutiny of legislation in the absurdly short time given by the programming motion, and such problems make life totally impossible for Committee members who are not Front Benchers, who have other responsibilities in this House and who try to carry out a wide range of scrutiny functions as Members of Parliament. I make those comments to apologise for the fact that the amendment is probing, or must be seen as such, because I do not know its precise consequences. The Library was not able to find the information even with half an hour's notice. If the House of Commons Library is not able to produce the information, I think that I can be forgiven for not doing so.

The amendment relates to legislative enforcement. I am worried about our capacity in the United Kingdom for gold plating legislation in terms of the way in which it is enforced. Proposed new section 169I states:

    ``It is the duty of every local weights and measures authority in England and Wales to enforce''.

The word ``duty'' makes the task almost the first priority of the authority's work. If anything goes wrong, and the authority has a duty imposed on it by Parliament, it will have to ensure, determinedly, officiously and zealously, regardless of whether there is a problem, that the provisions of clauses 31 and 32 are enforced. I am grateful to have been passed the appropriate part of the Bill, and I shall do my best to read it and speak at the same time. If any Member wants to intervene on me, so that I have an opportunity to read that section, I would be extremely grateful.

Mr. Heald: Does my hon. Friend agree that the duty—

The Chairman: Order. Has the hon. Gentleman taken an intervention?

Mr. Blunt: Yes.

Mr. Heald: Does my hon. Friend agree that the duty imposed on every local weights and measures authority in England and Wales to enforce the provisions of sections 169A and 169B of the Licensing Act 1964 would relate to provisions dealing with the offence of selling to somebody under the age of 18 or of permitting a sale to somebody under the age of 18?

Mr. Blunt: Yes, that is my understanding. I am concerned about the language used by the Bill to place that duty on every local weights and measures authority. I do not know whether the Licensing Act 1964 or other legislation, as it relates to local weights and measures authorities when they are given a responsibility to take action in relation to certain affairs, encapsulates that duty. I presume that the weights and measures authority officiously prosecuted a gentleman in the north-east who wanted to sell bananas by the pound rather than by the kilogram. Most people consider that an absurd prosecution, but those responsible could not exercise any discretion in carrying out their duty, presumably because of how the legislation was framed.

If the provision were removed, presumably the duty, or responsibility, would still lie with weights and measures authorities to test the powers provided in clauses 31 and 32. However, if no particular problem was experienced in an authority's area with people under the age of 18—

        It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Hood, Mr. Jimmy
Gale, Mr. Roger

Hood, Mr. Jimmy

Bailey, Mr.

Ballard, Jackie

Blunt, Mr.

Brinton, Mrs.

Clark, Mr. Paul

Clarke, Mr. Charles

Gray, Mr.

Grogan, Mr.

Hawkins, Mr.

Heald, Mr.

Hughes, Mr. Simon

Humble, Mrs.

Ladyman, Dr.

Lock, Mr.

Smith, Miss Geraldine

Sutcliffe, Mr.

Thomas, Mr. Gareth R.

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