Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

The Earl of Courtown: I congratulate my noble friend Lord Kinnoull on his response to this group of amendments. Perhaps I may pick up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich and say that I know that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, is equally concerned about guidance notes and Home Office circulars, and that that concern is shared by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. As I understand it, when the Secretary of State issues guidance to the police, he naturally expects chief police officers to take account of it. It is therefore unnecessary to have such a provision on the face of the Bill.

In the Public Entertainments Licences (Drug Misuse) Bill, we shall be speaking about closing down businesses which are possibly worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. Noble Lords considered that they wanted to reinforce the necessity for local authorities to take account of the detailed guidance on the circumstances in which that could happen. In the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Bill, we are talking about taking a can of lager away from a young person. The scale is slightly different, as all noble Lords are aware. I suggest to the Committee that it is therefore unnecessary to give the same emphasis to guidance on the face of the Bill. Indeed, to do so might even suggest that the police need not take account of guidance where the legislation does not specify that they should.

Turning now to Amendment No. 1, I should point out that it does not disapply the power only in respect of parents, but of guardians also. As my noble friend said, the amendment does not define what constitutes a guardian. I presume that the noble Lord means a guardian who has been appointed by a court, but that is not specified. I am concerned that that would cause serious trouble in practice and I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Monson: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord

19 Mar 1997 : Column 990

Harris of Greenwich, who raised an important point about Home Office guidance and the possible difficulties that could arise with interpretation. That point was answered to my partial satisfaction by the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, but not to my entire satisfaction.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, spoke of the danger of losing the Bill if any amendments are accepted. That is not so because no fewer than 19 amendments have been tabled to the next Bill that we are to consider and nobody is suggesting that there is any danger of that Bill being lost.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, cited the practical problem of how the police can judge who is a parent or a guardian. True, but one might as well ask the noble Earl how a police constable can judge who is 17 (and can therefore be caught by the provisions of the Bill) and who is 18 (and therefore cannot be so caught but who might be able to take some legal action against the police if he was unjustly detained, even temporarily, as a consequence of a police constable mistaking his age). We have had a fairly good run on this group of amendments, so I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 1.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 17, at end insert ("and shall give a written receipt for the intoxicating liquor so surrendered if he does not dispose of it forthwith.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment provides that if the confiscated drink is not disposed of straightaway in front of the person from whom it was confiscated by, for example, being poured down a drain or on to the grass, the constable must give a written receipt. If the constable removes the drink for later disposal, the suspicion (doubtless mainly unjust) will inevitably take root among young people--and not necessarily only among young people--that the drinks are being removed only to be consumed later, surreptitiously or otherwise, by the police themselves. That would, of course, be a disciplinary offence, but it would be very difficult to prove in the circumstances. The obligation to give a receipt would help to allay such suspicions, which I repeat would largely be unjust, thereby fostering improved relations between the police and the public, and particularly younger members of the public, to the great benefit of the community as a whole. I beg to move.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie: I support this amendment. I am concerned that this Bill, and the similar provisions in the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill, refer to the "possession" of intoxicating liquor rather than to its "consumption". That suggests to me that we could see over-zealous policemen taking unopened cans and bottles from people who may only be transporting them. Perhaps I may present an easy scenario: young people may be taking the cans from their own home to the home of their grandparents. I hope that whichever noble Earl replies to this amendment will assure the Committee that the intention

19 Mar 1997 : Column 991

of the Bill is only to remove intoxicating liquor that is being consumed rather than intoxicating liquor that is still in an unopened bottle and is merely being transported between two places.

The Earl of Kinnoull: There is some confusion as to who should be guiding the Committee. Perhaps my noble friend will guide us further following my reply. I appreciate the reason for the amendment but not its merit. As to the merit, one must remember that a police officer is using his commonsense in these situations. Equally, the police officer will know that it is a very serious disciplinary offence for him to take confiscated alcohol for his own use. I believe it is unthinkable that any officer would risk his career in such a way.

Regulations made under the Police (Property) Act 1897 provide that if the chief officer is satisfied that the nature of the property is such that it is not in the public interest for it to be sold, it shall be destroyed or otherwise disposed of in accordance with his directions. It is such a serious matter for a police officer to go astray in this way that the last thing he will do is risk his career in that way.

As for giving a receipt for something that will be poured away anyway, he can hardly give a receipt because there is nothing to come back. I appreciate the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. He spoke well on the powers in the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill earlier this afternoon. I shall leave my noble friend to explain this with his great guidance. I do not believe that it is a problem.

The Earl of Courtown: First, I should like to deal with the point relating to unopened bottles and cans raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. The Bill makes no distinction between open cans of alcohol and those which are closed. I would expect the police to act sensibly in this matter. If an officer found a group of youngsters drinking in public he might pour away the contents of the open can and tell the youngsters to take the rest away or, depending on the age of the youngsters, take the cans and the young people home to their parents. If a large amount of alcohol were involved, the police would almost certainly wish to investigate it further. It might be stolen. A supplier might be illegally selling it to young people. In such circumstances it is more likely that the cans or bottles would be taken back to the police station as potential evidence in respect of an entirely different offence. These are operational matters. As such, they are best left to the police. However, as I have made clear, property taken back to the police station could be disposed of only under the regulations made under the Police (Property) Act 1897.

The noble Earl also painted the scenario of a youngster taking cans of beer from one member of a family to another. As I understand it, this would fall outside the scope of the Bill as far as concerns guidance to the police. I apologise for using the word "guidance"

19 Mar 1997 : Column 992

again. For a good part of this, how the police will behave in such circumstances will be an operational matter and a matter of police training.

Lord Monson: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken, including the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, and the Minister. As I said in my introduction, it is a disciplinary offence for a police constable to purloin a can of drink that is confiscated to drink himself on his way home, but it is a matter that is extremely difficult to prove. I suggest that it requires only one rogue officer to go astray briefly for the whole law to be brought into disrepute. One can visualise what a field day the tabloids would have in such circumstances. But I believe that we have gone as far as we can on this amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Monson moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 2, line 11, at end insert ("save that for the purposes of this section, products containing less than 1.2 per cent. alcohol by volume shall not be deemed to constitute "intoxicating liquor".").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 4 is designed to remove very low alcohol beers and lagers from the scope of the Bill. These low alcohol beers and lagers--ranging from 0.5 per cent. in the case of most low alcohol lagers to just over 1 per cent. in the case of the average low alcohol beer--are considered so innocuous that they can be sold quite legally to minors. As I understand it, they can also be sold at motorway service stations. However, they had not been invented when the 1964 Act, which is referred to in Clause 1(7), was framed. Therefore, no exemption was provided for those products in the original Act, which I have checked. I beg to move the amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page