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Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: It is not for me to come to the aid of the Government Front Bench, but there are two points which are worth making. The first is that the consumption of alcopops has declined quite radically since the Government introduced excise changes. Consumption has dropped by 18 per cent in the past 12 months. I am not saying that there is not a problem but that particular aspect has been tackled.
The second point is that market forces drive good licensees of pubs to have a neat, clean, well-organised place. They want the car park to look nice; they want the environment to look nice. If it does not look nice, the customers will not come again. I accept the points that are being made, but I think that we must also see that there is an economic rationale within this for publicans to ensure that their clientele are well behaved and that the pub is clean and well organised, because that will bring people back again. They are in a trade where they want people to return and to use the public house day after day, week after week.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: I think that is true but, if you travel around the country as I do, visiting various towns on political errands of one kind or another, you will find that in almost every town there are two or three large pubs which are solid drinking places for young people, from about six o'clock on into the night. Those are the pubs which have to encourage people to stay on in order to drink more.
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, is of course right in saying that they do their best to see that their car parks are tidy, that the place is not full of vomit and that it is reasonably well controlled. But these are places to which people become accustomed to going. They know that this is a place you go to on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night in any provincial town, and you drink as much as you possibly can.
Let us take the most obvious things. I know the reputation of the noble Lord, Lord Chan, and I very much respect his contribution to issues of public health. But this is not the Bill in which we constrain the hours of work of the people who work in licensed premises. We have legislation which deals with hours of work. Employment legislation is a key feature of the Government's record, of which they are rightly proud. This measure, however, does not include the issue of working hours. Nor is there any question of a licence being granted or renewed to a licensee who is not capable of keeping his equipment clean enough to avoid straightforward damage to public healthwhich would soon become apparent, it would seem to me, if he were guilty of fouling the pipes to the extent suggested. Of course it is an important consideration, but only within the obvious general obligation of a licensee to provide a healthy beveragethat is, a non-poisonous beverageto the consumer.
I regard the issue of alcopops as somewhat extraneous. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, rightly identified the fact that there had been a significant rise in under-age drinking which needed to be addressed, and that alcopops formed a part of that cult. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, came to my rescue like a knight in shining armourfor which I am duly gratefuland I can merely testify to the accuracy of what the noble Lord said: that is, that these issues have been addressed. The Portman Group has established agreed packaging for alcopops and the Government have taken steps to encourage the development of a code of practice to help to control the position.
Nothing needs to be added to the Bill in terms of constraints on under-age drinking. We had that debate earlier in regard to identity cards. Of course, identity cards would not necessarily solve the problem of alcopops because other people could purchase them for under-age drinkers in all kinds of outlets. The problem must be tackled on the basis of the way in which these alcoholic beverages are presented to the public. Strenuous work has been carried out to ensure that some of the worst features of that problem have been brought under control to a degree.
I recognise that the amendment introduces the issue of public health. This is important in regard to alcohol because we know that excessive consumption of alcohol is dangerous to humankind. We also know that alcohol is one of the joys of the community. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, may ask where I do my drinking; I would ask where he has been if he does not appreciate the fact that alcohol, drunk in restrained amounts in ideal circumstances, is one of the great joys of our society and civilization. What are we more proud of in Britain than the concept of the British pub?
Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his response and all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. It is right that these issues should be probed. The noble Lord, Lord Chan, came forward with additional thoughts in relation to whether or not the beer lines will be sterilised if pubs are on the go 24 hours a day. These are important issues where publicans are under pressurenotwithstanding what my noble friend Lord Hodgson saidand are bound to impact on the day-to-day workings of licensed premises. Indeed, they will become more apparent given the pressures involved in the prolonged hours of work that I suspect will impact on those with premises licences and individual personal licences as a result of the liberalising laws in the Bill.
It is important to reiterate that one of the reasons for probing this issue is that we on this side of the Committee do not seek to regulate, to clamp down, to minimise and controlfar from itbut, as I said in opening the debate, we are somewhat intrigued by the fact that the Government lecture us on many fronts in relation to what is good for us and for our health. Even in a recent report on the future of sport, which was leaked from 10 Downing Street, it seems that sport is no longer about having fun, team playing, enjoying yourself; it is about health. We do not disagree with that. However, we are saying that the entire tenet, the drive, of the Government at the moment seems to be about how we look after ourselves and our health. That is not a bad idea, but it seems that we should not be debating the matter now.
I make no apology for raising this important issue. It is also referred to in Clause 13 of the Bill. We believe that if matters of public health and the protection of the environment were on the face of the Bill, the licensing objectives would benefit the local authorities that will have to work with the Bill, when enacted.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Geddes): Before calling Amendment No. 81, I must advise the Committee that if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 82 to 89 inclusive due to pre-emption.
I have tabled these amendments to probe the exact nature of the duties that will be imposed on local authorities under Clause 4. The Committee will have noticed that, although the term "have regard to" is used in subsection (3) in relation to following the licensing statement and the Secretary of State's guidance, subsection (1) uses the term "with a view to promoting". It would have been open to the Government to say in subsection (1), "A licensing authority must have regard to the licensing objectives when carrying out its functions under this Act", rather than using the term "with a view to promoting" in the Bill.
I hope that the Minister will be able to explain to the Committee why the Government have chosen to use what in my submission is the slightly weaker wording, imposing a less onerous duty, of "with a view to promoting" in subsection (1), which deals with the statutory licensing objectives, but have chosen the wording "have regard to" in the context of subsection (3), which deals with a duty to follow the licensing statement and the Secretary of State's guidance.
I therefore take it from the wording of the Bill that if in the judgment of a licensing authority either the licensing statement or the national guidance conflict with the licensing objectives in subsection (2), it will have to apply the statement and the guidance over the objectives, given the difference between the terms "with a view to promoting" and "having regard to". Perhaps the Minister will comment on that when she comes to the Dispatch Box, and also on what a licensing authority will have to do if it considers that its own licensing statement and the Secretary of State's national guidance conflict. Which will be followed?
The Committee will recall that during the final stages of the passage of the Nationality, Asylum and Immigration Bill in the previous Session your Lordships' House agreed, after a Division, to an amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns. That amendment would have placed a duty on the Secretary of Statethat is, the Home Secretaryto "have regard to" the needs of asylum seekers when choosing sites for new accommodation centres.
Members of the Committeenot least my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, who took a great interest in the provisions of that Billwill also recall that the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on consideration of Commons amendments and reasons, said that the wording of that amendment,
I ought to say that there are many instances in legislation of duties being imposed on public authorities to "have regard to" certain matters when making decisions. But I thought that in the light of the recent comments by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, from the Government Front Bench I should give the noble Baroness an opportunity to tell the Committee something of the Government's thinking on the drafting of Clause 4 and the potential for judicial review of licensing authorities. I beg to move.
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