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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for that reply, which could not have been more helpful. I should hope, however, that we could deal with the matter here; as we know, another place misses out whole swathes of legislation when time is short. Nevertheless, I understand the problem. I immediately assure the noble Baroness that I have no intention of bringing in bucolic drunkenness by the back entrance to the marquee. I accept that Clause 172 deals with raffles and tombolas and with a certain limited provision of sealed containers of alcohol. There is no shortage of soft-shoe shuffle on my part about that, and I accept that it must not be allowed in.
The noble Baroness mentioned the Private Places of Entertainment (Licensing) Act 1967. However, that legislation is confined to events promoted for private gain. It would therefore withstand the current proposals and not be touched by this legislation. Other than that, I look forward to seeing the fruit of the noble Baroness's statement and to collaborating with her as far as possible. I am grateful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The amendment seeks to create circumstances in which we can maintain the village shop, particularly where it is linked to a garage and wishes to sell alcohol. It seeks to prevent the creation of "shopping deserts", as they have come to be called. As we discussed and we all know, the village shop is under considerable commercial pressure. Village shops/post offices are under pressure because benefit payments are being made differently. Village shops/garages are under pressure because we have a "throw away" rather than a mend environment. Petrol retailers are being driven out because of the pitiful profit margins. The village shop is also under pressure because of supermarkets.
If that commercial unity is to survive, the only answer is to combine those functions. If the garage wants to sell other goods and those goods include alcohol, so be itlet them apply for a licence. I am not suggesting that they should be free from having to apply for a licence. I am saying that they should not be prohibited, as the Bill currently provides, from being able even to apply for a licence. Garages are not even included in the permissible category.
The illogicality of the current position can be illustrated in various ways. It is, for example, permissible for an off licence to be located just 10 to 15 feet from a garage in the same village street. In all likelihood, however, if operated separately, both businesses would go out of business as they would not be commercially viable. Major supermarkets advertise in local newspapers to offer cheap petrol as a means of attracting customers. As I said in Committee, however, once people fill up with petrol at the supermarkets, they can fill up the boot of their cars with booze. Driving to Tesco or Sainsbury's to buy alcohol is as dangerous as driving to one's local village shop/garage to buy a six-pack of beer.
In replying on this issue, the noble Baroness had only two arguments. The first was that permission can be given if less than half the annual turnover of the village garage/shop involves garage-type activities. I think that that was the point she made in Committee in reply to an intervention from my noble friend Lord Crickhowell. The argument seems totally illogical. If 49 per cent of my garage/shop turnover is in petrol, I can apply to sell alcohol with impunity. If it is 51 per cent, however, I cannot do so as I would be in danger of creating alcohol crazed drivers. How will we deal with the threshold when village shops are just either side of the 50 per cent level?
The Minister's next substantive argument was that changing the arrangements would encourage drink driving. She pointed out that, since 1979, alcohol-related deaths on the road have decreased from 1,600 to 480. I think that the number decreased again in 2001. She was absolutely right to say that that is extremely good news. The question, however, is whether those figures are in any way related to the prohibition proposed in the Bill. I would argue quite strongly that they are not.
I have mentioned the position regarding Sainsbury's and Tesco and the huge bias against small village garage/shops. In reply to a Written Question in another place, Mr Bob Ainsworth said that no studies have been undertaken on the commission of drink driving offences related to alcohol purchases from different retail categories. He went on to say that the UK has shown that a combination of rigid enforcement and advertising campaigns has had a dramatic effect in reducing the numbers of people killed and seriously injured in crashes involving illegal levels of alcohol. That seems to shoot another hole in the Minister's argument because, if the prohibition was that important, the Home Office should have done some research on it. The Home Office, in a Written Answer, is effectively saying that the major factor is not alcohol sales, but enforcement and advertising campaigns.
The present permissions were introduced in 1988. Since then, between 600 and 1,000 forecourt stores have met the requirements of the present legislation, and there has been no increase in alcohol-related deaths. Indeed, as the Minister rightly points out, alcohol-related deaths have fallen.
In Scotland, the situation is already as I would like it to be, as legislation liberalised the position in 1997. Garages can apply to the district council licensing board for a licence permitting them to sell alcohol, and there has been no discernible increase in alcohol-related deaths as a result of that minor change in Scotland.
The provision is a strike for local democracy, and for village shops and local communities. The Government talk about the Bill being a deregulatory and decentralising piece of legislation. They should trust the local licensing authority, which will know whether an application is worth while. If it is not, they can turn it down. Local people would have a chance to decide. To have a blanket ban drives another nail in the coffin of local shopping facilities based in villages. If they are to survive, we have to combine functions to meet modern economic competition. If the Government are honest about local authorities taking decisions that reflect their local conditions, they should remove the blanket ban and permit local sense and opinion to prevail. I beg to move.
Clause 173 prohibits the sale of alcohol at certain excluded premises, including garages. That prohibition is not new. I remind the House that it was introduced under a Conservative government not that long ago, at the behest of the police and road safety organisations. We have reviewed the position and consider it right that it should continue as it is for the time being.
Although we and previous administrations have made good progress in reducing drink driving, there is still much work to be done. Allowing the sale of alcohol would undermine our very clear messages in that area. The issue is not so much to do with reducing drink driving as ensuring that our messages on the topic are clear, and that we can continue the welcome results of the past 20 or more years. The police and road safety organisations maintain their extremely strong support for our view. It would be quite wrong of the Government to act contrary to that firm advice, as would certainly be the effect of the amendment.
I appreciate that the position may not seem logical in some circumstances. It is of course true that one can drive to an off-licence and fill one's boot with super-strength lager, even when the off-licence is 25 yards down the road from a garage. However, all our advice from the experts in road safety points to the continuation of the prohibition.
That said, we might one day reach a point where we consider that drink driving is no longer a menace. At that happy time it might be appropriate to lift the ban on alcohol sales, and the Bill provides flexibility for the Secretary of State to do that through regulation. The amendment would remove that flexibility, and primary legislation would be needed to change the position.
We recognise the importance of balance, however. There is no blanket ban, as the noble Lord said that there was, on the sale of alcohol from garages. It will be allowed under certain circumstances. We recognise that the garage shop often plays a vital role in rural communities, where it might be the only store for some way. That is why the Bill is drafted in such a way that the prohibition will apply only to premises that are primarily used as a garage or form part of premises that are primarily so used. I know that the noble Lord was concerned that the effect of the Bill would be to penalise village shops but, for the reasons that I have given, we have drafted the Bill to ensure that that does not happen.
I should like to take the opportunity to clarify some of the definitions on which the Bill will rely. Use as a garage means use for the retail sale of petrol or diesel or for the sale or maintenance of motor vehicles. Whether a premises is used primarily as a garage is tested under current law by reference to the intensity of use by customers. That may take turnover into account, as I said in Committee. I wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, following our debates in Committee with quite a detailed explanation. I placed copies of that letter in the Library. In effect, the licensing authority will be able to take into account a
At present, it is right to continue the prohibition in its current form. At some stage in future the position may have to be reviewed. Meanwhile, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, that is not very satisfactory. We are sacrificing small businesses because the Government want to give a message. As I have explained, while we all absolutely applaud a reduction in alcohol-related deaths, the reality is that the provisions on small garages have nothing to do with that. Nothing that the Minister said makes any difference on such deaths at all. She simply said, "We've got to say this, because that's the message that we want to give". Essentially, we are telling many small businesses, "Because we want to give a message, you're going to go out of business". That is what the Minister effectively said.
Forecourt stores have become a new sector of the British retail trade. Frankly, it is unfair of the Government to permit large superstores on the edges of towns to continue to sell alcohol while advertising petrol as a loss leader, and then to say that that simply cannot be done in the village. In the village, the ability to sell alcohol will depend on intensity of use, but that is undefined; it could be turnover but could be something else.
The Minister spoke about public opinion. The law in Scotland permits people to apply to local licensing authorities and get a licence, irrespective of the features to which the Minister referred.
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