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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. In doing so, perhaps I may thank those noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I appreciate the points made by my noble friends about the shortness of the debate and I thank them for their understanding. This also gives me an opportunity to thank the noble Lords, Lord Eatwell and Lord Ezra, not only for their co-operation on this Bill but for their interesting views--I would not go so far as to say co-operation--on some of the other Bills and in some of the other debates on economic matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has had a distinguished career in British industry and I have always listened with some care to all the points that he has made and attempted to answer them as best I could. In matters of economics I have occasionally felt, facing the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, something like the enthusiastic amateur facing the professional. I have learnt a lot, not just from the noble Lord in his capacity as an economist, but also from the team of academic economists who are usually ranged behind him when I stand at the Dispatch Box to answer debates and pilot financial matters through your Lordships' House. I shall not ask noble Lords even to tempt me to say which of the academic Lords opposite I prefer when it comes to proffering advice on economic matters. At this stage of the Parliament that would be far too divisive.

My task is to say to the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, how much I have appreciated the debates that we have had. Not much quarter has been given in them, but they have been conducted in a good-humoured debating spirit. I am not entirely sure whether translating economists from academia and putting them in charge of the real economy would be a sensible move for the British public, but that is something they will have to decide on 1st May. Sufficient for today is my gratitude to both noble Lords for the part they have played in the debates we have held in this House. Speaking for all three of us, I hope that we have educated, amused and stimulated your Lordships, at least on some occasions.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Bill passed.

Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Bill

7.22 p.m.

The Earl of Kinnoull: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(The Earl of Kinnoull.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The VISCOUNT OF OXFUIRD in the Chair.]

19 Mar 1997 : Column 987

Clause 1 [Confiscation of intoxicating liquor]:

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 5, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (1A) below,").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, in moving this amendment I shall speak at the same time to Amendment No. 2 to which Amendment No. 1 is a paving amendment. At Second Reading I pointed out that, as drafted, the provisions of the Bill, which allow for people who are innocent of any criminal offence to be challenged and, in certain circumstances, their goods confiscated, could embarrass, annoy and inconvenience respectable families with teenage children, including foreign tourists, who happen to be having a picnic which included beer, cider, wine or even Pimms, for example, on a public beach or at a public beauty spot.

The noble Earl, Lord Courtown, replied in effect that that was certainly not the intention of the Bill and that the police would be urged to be extremely tactful in their application of the new law. They should not bother, let alone target, such family groups. The trouble is that once one gives the police or anybody else, particularly in uniform, excessively wide-ranging powers in any area, sooner or later they are bound to be misused. Such is human nature. That creates bad blood. One remembers the "sus" laws and the random use of the breathalyser. That is bad for the community at large and for the long-term and medium-term interests of the police themselves.

This pair of amendments is designed to obviate that by providing that police powers should not operate when teenagers are accompanied by their parents or guardians--not only their legal guardians, but their de facto guardians like uncles and aunts, godparents or even a brother or sister who happens to be in his or her late 20s or early 30s. I beg to move.

The Earl of Kinnoull: My noble friend Lord Monson will be surprised, I believe, that I am grateful to him for putting down these amendments. They give an opportunity to explain again the benefits of this small Bill and to try to answer and allay some of the fears and worries that he expressed at Second Reading.

One has to remember that this small Bill is designed specifically to tackle the problem of the drinking of alcohol by young people on our streets. It has been drafted to cover adults who may be in their company and whom the police believe are holding, supplying and encouraging drinking by young people. The noble Lord quite rightly raised his worry at Second Reading about the family picnic. I am advised that the Home Office guideline, which I know worries the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, will refer specifically to the parliamentary concerns of these powers and also give advice as to how they should be interpreted.

With this power the police officer tackling young people will perhaps be able to nip in the bud a problem before the young people cause an offence. It is a most imaginative power because it will allow a young person to receive a severe ticking off without being arrested or becoming a criminal. I have been very struck by the

19 Mar 1997 : Column 988

evidence I have received as a result of ringing around the police, local authorities and schools and anyone who is in touch with this problem. There is not one person who has not warmly welcomed the powers that this Bill will give.

The amendment which the noble Lord puts before us, as presently drafted, is technically defective, because it does not define "guardian". That will have to be defined in this Bill. The other practical problem is how a police officer could possibly identify among young people, with perhaps a 25 year-old adult, who is a parent and who is a guardian. It has been cited to me that one could have a situation of a police officer finding a group of youngsters drinking outside a bus shelter, following complaints about their behaviour. He decides that the powers contained in this Bill are just what he needs because he will be able to take away the drink, pour it down the drain, tick the youngsters off and probably notify their parents. But one of the lads, who looks about 24 years of age, claims to be the father of one of the youngsters who looks about 13. The officer will not know for certain whether that is or is not the case. He might consider that it is highly unlikely, but he will not be able to establish with certainty on the spot that it is not the case. The two boys might be brothers and perhaps they can produce the same form of identification with the same name. It would not prove their relationship, but the officer would be deprived of the useful power. The youngsters will quickly learn that all they have to do to frustrate the powers of this Bill is to claim that the oldest person in their midst is the parent of one of the others. That is a practical example of why, on reflection, one is unable to advise the Committee to accept the amendment. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, can accept what I have said.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I rise to speak in the absence of my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey who, as the Committee knows, dealt with the matter on Second Reading. My noble friend has asked me to say that he supports the Bill and its intentions, but that he takes the view that, although there is some sense in some of the amendments and he has sympathy with them, in view of the timetable he feels that the Committee should not accept them.

Much as my noble friend would like to debate the matter at greater length--indeed, on Second Reading, he made particular reference to the exclusion of low alcohol wine and lager--he feels that given the parliamentary timetable it would be pointless for such amendments to be passed because of the danger of losing the Bill. As I have said, my noble friend supports the Bill but, in general, is unable to support amendments to it because of the matters that I have just raised.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: I believe that most of us accept the Bill and the desirability of having a Bill on this subject. What worries me and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey--I know that on this matter I can speak with his full agreementpresented to your Lordships in the last few weeks before Prorogation. Somebody who is far better at statistics than I am has calculated that in the present Session there have been 28 Home Office Bills, the overwhelming majority in the names of private Members. Any department that produces 28 Bills, even when they aim to deal with real problems, really is pushing its luck.

Having said that, although I am certainly not of a mind to try to obstruct the Bill, what worries me is the reference to "Home Office guidelines", which means "Home Office circulars", I presume. As a Minister at the Home Office, I was involved in agreeing Home Office circulars on a whole series of matters, but I am far more worried about publishing circulars which attempt to interpret an Act of Parliament. If the matter ever came before a judge, it would not help a great deal to say, "The real intentions of Parliament were explained in a circular" because the judge could perfectly reasonably say that Acts of Parliament, not Home Office circulars, are what explain Parliament's intentions. I do not propose to go on about this, but merely say to my old department that I hope that no future Home Secretary will ever be inclined to produce quite so many Bills in such a short period of time.

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