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Not all clubs wish to join the CASC scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, asked for a perspective on how things are going. We are pleased with the numbers that have signed up. Some sports clubs may have good reasons for not wanting to be part of the scheme. Their finances may be sufficiently robust to lead them to conclude that they will not benefit from it. However, as the noble Lord acknowledged, the scheme is beneficial for clubs and we should encourage as many as possible to sign up to it. After all, registered CASCs receive 80 per cent mandatory relief on their non-domestic “business” rates, which is not an insignificant figure. This is topped up to 100 per cent by some local authorities. CASCs enjoy exemptions from corporation tax on bank and building society interest, trading income up to £30,000 and income from property up to £20,000. They are also exempt from capital gains tax on disposals of assets. A registered CASC can reclaim up to £25 in tax for every £100 donated from individuals. These are all significant advantages arising from participation in the scheme. Therefore, the Government wish to spread understanding of these benefits as far afield as we can to get as many clubs as possible to join the scheme. As I indicated, more than 5,000 clubs are

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in the scheme and Deloitte estimates that, since its inception, the scheme has injected more than £48,000 into grassroots sports. This has enabled clubs to spend the reinvested money on everything from improved facilities to kit.

However, the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, identifies where the shoe pinches and the difficulties that obtain in discrete areas and has received substantial support for it. Parliamentary Questions have recently been tabled on community sport. My noble friend Lady Billingham, who is in her place, asked a parliamentary Question on this issue very recently. I appreciate the difficulties arising from utility bills. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to Carlisle football club, and a utility company in the north-west of England and mentioned the public concern about this. This concern, echoed by the Government, has caused the company to put a year’s stoppage on its proposed significant bill increases. The noble Lord is anxious about what will happen next. We shall all need to address that. Certainly, United Utilities realises that it has departed significantly from the practice of all other utilities in the country and has paused for thought. We hope that is a constructive pause for thought.

As the right reverend Prelate said, sports clubs are not alone in facing such problems. Many institutions are having difficulty meeting their utility bills. As he said, majestic buildings such as Salisbury Cathedral are particularly hard hit by the way in which water charges are calculated with regard to the removal of surface water. Of course, we understand these difficulties and wish to address them. However, the Bill is limited to sports clubs, while these issues also affect other institutions. The Government have to address the issue in the round. It would not do for us to support a Bill that solves the problem for one set of institutions while not considering the plight of others.

I appreciate the very real difficulty with regard to utility prices, particularly water charges. I entirely accept that certain institutions have real difficulties in this area. Sports clubs are the obvious example but churches are also affected. Indeed, churches’ difficulties in that regard were discussed in a recent debate initiated by a right reverend Prelate. Therefore, we must take a general approach to these issues. Utility companies must bear responsibility for their actions in this regard, particularly when one steps so far out of line and creates the difficulties for the sports club in Carlisle and in the north-west which have been mentioned. We want to see these companies adopt a much more reasonable approach to customers’ ability to pay. There is no doubt that substantial and sudden increases in costs adversely affect voluntary organisations that have no capacity greatly to increase their income in the short term. I accept the point that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, made. His Bill emphasises this important issue and I assure him that the Government are very concerned about it. However, we believe that the issue needs to be considered in the round and that other institutions are as deserving as sports clubs and also need to be protected in this regard.

My noble friend Lord Pendry with his sporting credentials and the contribution that he makes to sport in this country referred to entertainment that

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sports clubs provide. This is a very complex area. It is not unreasonable for the Bill to spell out that something needs to be done. The Government are sympathetic to the thrust of the matter and we appreciate the difficulties that sports clubs face with regard to music licensing. We are aware of the issues involved, having received written responses from them in relation to the consultation exercise that we are carrying out. However, we cannot pre-empt the process by accepting the Bill’s proposal to repeal sections of existing legislation. We are involved in a widespread consultation exercise on this and treat the matter very seriously. We agree that the problems need to be addressed and we look forward to the outcome of the consultation exercise as being one where we can draft legislation covering areas greater than just sports clubs, but which deals with these issues.

On the issue that the noble Lord raised on artificial light nuisance, he is right that modern floodlighting has made a great difference. There was a time when almost any floodlighting was regarded with horror by anyone who neighboured sports facilities, because it was intrusive on the neighbourhood. I recall an occasion not that long ago when I was a Member of Parliament, when the strongest representations were made against what I fondly thought of as one of the most popular development in the area—the enhancement of sports facilities to enable community sport to be enjoyed in the evening by the installation of floodlights—until all those who lived immediately adjacent to the facility took a very different view.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, is right that technology has moved on and floodlights do not need to be as intrusive as they once were and they create much less of a problem. Nevertheless, we have some concern. We want to ensure that sports facilities can be available to the community for as long as possible and into the evening. This often means the use of floodlights, but we are concerned about neighbourhoods, too. He will recognise that we have to tread with care in this area. The 1990 Act states that floodlights that spill light and adversely affect people in significant ways have to be addressed and mitigated. This is when the nuisance significantly impacts on someone’s reasonable use of their property or adversely affects their health. Sometimes there is just bad lighting, but the Government have to tread with care in these areas. It would be difficult to see how we could exempt all floodlights from the provisions of the 1990 Act. There are sufficient problems with floodlights that require some protection for neighbourhoods. The noble Lord’s Bill asks for something that requires a balance for communities and that is why we are not prepared for there to be a complete change to existing legislation on floodlights.

The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, mentioned other aspects of sports clubs. He and the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, were right to emphasise that sports clubs depend overwhelmingly on voluntary contributions. There is a very limited number of paid professionals in all but the largest clubs. The problem with voluntary activity is that it may often lack the expertise necessary to advance the best interests of the club. This is certainly the case with regard to planning applications. One of the main reasons why applications are turned down is because applicants are often uninformed about

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the types of issues they need to address, such as light or noise pollution and disruption to traffic. We are concerned to try and give sports clubs and the volunteers who work for clubs a degree of support and the necessary expertise to handle planning applications in the most effective way. We are conscious that this is an important part of our support for clubs and we are concerned to offer guidance. This summer we will publish guidance that will be of assistance to all volunteers and, indeed, professionals in sports clubs, on how to handle planning applications that seek to increase their facilities.

I have considerable sympathy for the point that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, made in the Bill on funding for volunteer coaches, because they need to develop their expertise and we need more of them. It is a skill. He is also right to emphasise that often the people who are prepared to train for these sport qualifications are the very people who avoid education and training for more traditional activities, and sport offers an opportunity for the enhancement of their abilities.

However, in the allocation of government resources, legislation is bound to prioritise first qualifications, particularly those that bring the greatest economic benefits to the individual and society. That is a very important part of the Government’s skills agenda. It is difficult for us to think in terms of changing the principle of our commitment to the first qualification to help those who have no skills whatever. The moment we change legislation to provide for a second qualification, as the noble Lord suggests, we would open the door to very substantial expenditure. The Government have to prioritise tackling the basic lack of skills in individuals who need them. That is why our skills legislation is defined in those terms. Nevertheless, anyone who receives a means-tested benefit will not have to pay fees for the qualification included in the Bill, and the Learning and Skills Council provides subsidies for course fees in appropriate areas.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, graphically illustrated the significance of sport, and this debate has shown the enthusiasm of noble Lords on all sides of the House for the basic premise behind this Bill: a concern that community sports clubs are the heartbeat of grassroots sports in this country. They are so important to the Government’s targets of getting more people to play sport, tackling obesity, and improving the skills of the nation through increased exercise. We all share those objectives and, therefore, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for promoting the Bill, which has given us a chance to air these crucial issues.

Although he recognised that the Government cannot wholeheartedly support the Bill, I hope that he appreciates that, obviously, the Government are already working on concepts in the Bill. We need to take into account broader issues beyond sports clubs, and some aspects of the Bill involve difficult priorities with regard to government expenditure. However, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is always a very strong advocate in this House for sport. He is addressing a Government who are concerned to enhance sporting opportunities, and there is no doubt that community sports clubs are essential in relation to those objectives.

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11.59 am

Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank everybody who took part in the debate. I am particularly glad that my noble friend did, as I was worried that I would be the only person on these Benches. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, will not mind my picking out his final comment about trying to make sure that people think about these things in the first place. I think that what he said might add to the Bill, which at the moment, to be perfectly honest, is purely reactive. It is about what has gone wrong. It is especially about what has gone wrong with one good idea from the Government. It tries to bring things together. I fully appreciate the noble Lord’s point that, if we looked at this as a whole, perhaps half these problems would not exist and the other half would have been mitigated to an extent.

As I said, amateur sports clubs are motherhood and apple pie. The Minister talked about priorities, but we all know that this is about how you do your accountancy exercise on where the benefit will come from. The noble Lord also mentioned coaching. If you decided that you would drive this as part of the public health agenda, you would probably say that it was justifiable. In some of his responses, I heard in ringing tones words from the song by Tracy Chapman, “If not now then when?”. We should be aiming towards these things and encouraging them to happen, so that we get there eventually. In the failure to respond, I just heard the tone of government; more particularly, I heard the Treasury Bench rather than the rosette that sits on it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, joined us slightly late, but I would have mentioned her when I talked about Clause 3, as it deals with something that she brought very clearly to the world’s attention. I thank her for taking part. The right reverend Prelate asked us to stop looking too much in our own backyards and pointed out that the world interconnects. That is surely what a lot of the Bill is about. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for his support, at least for the principle of the Bill.

I feel that the Bill needs a little more thought and that we should bring our minds together to polish it. I would certainly welcome an amendment along the lines suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, if only to see what the Government would say to it. I will give myself that little indulgence. All I can say is that I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Online Purchasing of Goods and Services (Age Verification) Bill [HL]

Second Reading

12.02 pm

Moved by Baroness Massey of Darwen

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, this Bill would make it a requirement,

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online. In simple terms, this short but significant Bill would require online retailers and those who facilitate the sale of goods and services to abide by existing laws in respect of age-restricted goods and services. It would require every retailer who sells age-restricted goods and services over the internet to establish a system that would allow them to determine whether or not a person buying such goods or services met the legal minimum age.

This Bill cuts across government departments. It is about child protection, the law, business, communications and the media. I hope that my noble friend will agree with this and share her concerns with appropriate colleagues across those departments.

The Bill was introduced in another place in 2008, but it ran out of time. It was led by Margaret Moran MP, who has tirelessly campaigned on child protection issues; I salute her efforts. She was supported by colleagues on all sides of the House and I believe that this Bill has support from all sides in both Houses. I also salute the efforts of John Carr and the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, which has worked with stakeholders to reach some agreement on a way forward. The Bill is a result of these combined efforts. I also wish to acknowledge the efforts of business services for clarifying and promoting the need for age restriction.

The law on the sale of age-restricted goods is clear. What are missing are mechanisms for ensuring that the law is being observed. The provisions of my Bill follow the relevant provisions of the Gambling Act 2005. Prior to this Act, most of the gambling companies simply asked everyone who came to their website to tick a box to confirm that they were over 18. Many young people under 18 of course ticked the box and used online payments for betting. In the Gambling Act, Parliament made it compulsory for all online gambling sites to devise methods of determining the age of everyone who came to the site. Such provisions came into force in 2007 and seem to be working well. Gambling companies have given contracts to specialist companies to carry out verifications for them. Neither the Gambling Act nor my Bill prescribes any particular method of verifying age; we simply call for it.

Trading standards officers have put effort into testing compliance with age-restriction laws, but they are very busy. My Bill would change the situation by putting an obligation on online retailers of age-restricted goods and services to have effective systems to prevent underage sales.

Some may ask whether there is a real problem. Let me go into some detail of why I think that there is a problem. In the second quarter of 1999, only 9 per cent of the UK population—2.2 million people—could access the internet from home. Between 2000 and 2004, internet usage in the UK increased by a massive 126.5 per cent. Today, over 35 million UK residents— 58 per cent—now access the internet. Close to 90 per cent of teenagers have a personal TV, as do 60 per cent

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of five and six year-olds. We are simply in a new electronic age, with more opportunities and more hazards for children.

Before the internet, the purchase of goods was relatively simple. If there was a question over the age of someone wishing to gamble or buy alcohol, tobacco, solvents, knives, guns and so on, this could be checked by means of identification, and the sale could, one hoped, be refused. Now, these goods and services are available online, as are pornography and drugs. Children can bypass regulations by using a computer.

Self-regulation is not working. Very few online retailers have procedures in place to prevent underage young people buying almost anything over the internet. Members of your Lordships’ House are not, perhaps, very familiar with this computer-driven scenario but, in the recent book Consumer Kids, Ed Mayo and Agnes Nairn explore this world. They point out that,

How many of your Lordships have such access to electronic devices? They also point out that, while parents have a responsibility for monitoring their children, companies also have a responsibility for child protection. Currently, the law in respect of age verification says that there must be a testable and effective system to verify age. As long as a business makes a reasonable attempt to verify age, it is acting within the law. In the case of online child pornography, the self-regulation approach has been successful, even without legislation. But legislation is complex.

Public education is necessary, too. For instance, there is little to prevent a parent giving their child access to their credit card. There is also the issue of international sites and there are many payment systems other than by credit card. None of the proof-of-age card schemes has online components at the moment. There is no business case for retailers to lead the way in building a foolproof system. Retailers need a level playing field so that potential customers do not simply move from a compliant business to a non-compliant rival. A code of conduct is needed and DCSF and DCMS need to be involved in investigating possibilities.

Banks can and do provide children, some as young as 11, with Solo or Visa Electron cards, which can be used to make payments on the internet and are accepted on websites. There are also pre-paid or store value cards which can be bought as gifts and given to people of any age or bought over the counter. Such cards allow children to buy goods and services online, which they would not be able to do in normal circumstances.

A newspaper recently worked with a 14 year-old boy to test the system. I know of some parents who have also tested the system and found it wanting. The boy bought a pre-paid card with cash at a local store. Card retailers say that their cards can be sold only to people over the age of 18 but this boy was not questioned about his age. He was able to order porn videos from Amazon, and knives from Tesco that were delivered to

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him personally and signed for. Oddbins delivered some vodka to his home, and he was able to bet on a football match online.

Only today, Greenwich Council has highlighted in a report how easy it is for young people under 18 to obtain goods and services on the internet. In its example, a 16 year-old volunteer bought knives, age-restricted games and DVDs and alcohol from well known retailers. He used a pre-paid Splash Maestro card and a MasterCard gift card from local retailers. Both were registered with his real date of birth and address. Thirteen out of 16 online retailers sold to him with no further checks; only three asked for age confirmation. He got round the system simply by giving false information and his age was not confirmed. That example is from just one council report—that of Greenwich. How many other councils would find the same results, or worse?

Companies choose to sell online and, in this age of credit difficulties, they may intensify their efforts to target people, including children. Unless companies can be sure that they are selling goods or services legally, they should stop selling online. Many online retailers simply ask customers to tick a box to confirm their age, yet one online company survey found that, of 300 18 to 30 year-olds, 57 per cent lied about their age to gain access to age-restricted goods or services.

There are technological solutions to age verification, and companies must provide online and ID checks in order to screen minors. The law is being got round in the online provision of goods and services to underage people. The Bill would cut out this loophole, protect children and provide reassurance to concerned parents. I beg to move.

12.12 pm

Baroness Coussins: My Lords, I am in complete agreement with the objectives of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in introducing this Bill. There are very good reasons why age restrictions are applied by law to the sale of various products, and I strongly support all efforts by trading standards, parents, local authorities, the police and the relevant industries to make sure that the law is properly understood, observed and enforced. Growth of online sales in all sectors means that we urgently need to update the regime of good practice and regulation in this respect.

However, I should like to flag up one or two questions about whether the Bill as it stands is the best way of achieving those objectives. It is partly to do with timing and partly to do with the practicalities of good regulation. It may be that all this can be resolved in Committee, or perhaps a different mechanism altogether could be identified for achieving what we all want to see.

Before setting out my concerns in more detail, I should like to give some examples of how the drinks industry has dealt with this issue, because I believe that there are some examples of best practice here that may be helpful when setting standards across the board. Alcohol is one of the best-known products to which a legal minimum purchase age applies. I declare an interest as a former chief executive of the Portman Group, which introduced the very first national proof of age card in 1990. I also currently advise two drinks producers on social responsibility issues.

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As I said, as far back as 1990, the leading drinks producers who supported the Portman Group decided that they needed to support the retailers who sold their products in avoiding illegal underage sales, and the proof of age card was launched. Over the years, it was developed to make it more secure and reliable—for example, by acquiring a virtually forge-proof hologram on the face of the card to help retailers to weed out the fake cards. Whenever we became aware of websites offering fake cards based on our design, we took legal action and, in all cases as far as I remember, the relevant internet service provider agreed to take down the offending website.

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