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13 Oct 2009 : Column 116

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: The Government's approach to the question in principle is that, if there is a problem and veterans are suffering, we should do all that we can to support them and identify their problems. The work that we are doing on Gulf War syndrome at the moment and the research that we are supporting, which is based mainly at the University of Cardiff, is about looking at how to help veterans face the future and deal with any medical problems that they have. As I mentioned earlier, there is also financial support which is based on the need of individual servicemen. It is important that that financial help is given on the basis of need and not on the basis of any label attached to any illness.

Energy: Sustainability


3.06 pm

Asked By The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Government have put in place a regulatory framework that sets the strategic direction and allows the necessary investment in energy infrastructure for both energy security and sustainability to come forward. There are explicit incentives in this framework for delivering secure supplies and for sustainability, such as our support for renewable energy.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Can he give an assurance that all the national policy statements relating to energy will be carbon assessed and will contribute to the growth of a low-carbon economy?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the national policy statements on energy will set out the Government's policy on energy, which will provide the context in which the new Infrastructure Planning Commission will take its decisions on planning projects of major national significance. Clearly, those national policy statements on energy, which I hope will be published in draft form very shortly, will embrace the Government's energy policies. Our aim to reduce carbon emissions in this country and to negotiate internationally to reduce carbon emissions worldwide will be fully included in that.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, will the Minister reply to the right reverend Prelate and say specifically-yes or no-whether there will be a carbon footprint assessment? He did not actually say that.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I set the context in which the national policy statements on energy will be put forward. We have not yet published the national policy statements. I will not anticipate what is in those statements but clearly it will be consistent with the Government's energy policy.

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Lord Teverson: My Lords, two of the key messages of the Ofgem report concerned gas: first, that imports will increase substantially under any of the scenarios; and, secondly, that the biggest risk to energy dislocation is gas supplies in winter. What figure or percentage do the Government consider to be the maximum for imported gas that is compatible with energy security in this country?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I certainly do not wish to give such a figure as I do not think that is an appropriate way to look at the gas needs of this country. As the reservoir of gas in the North Sea starts to decline, as it is doing at the moment, it is very important that we diversify our supply.

The noble Lord will know that there has been a large increase in import facilities. We work very closely in Europe for a greater liberalisation of the European market to increase those diverse supplies. We are active in relation to the southern corridor to bring gas from the Caspian through to Europe. We think that the best approach is to ensure as liberal a market as possible to ensure that we continue to see diversity in supply; but we should never forget the continuing importance of the North Sea as a strategic reserve.

Lord Krebs: My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the report of the Committee on Climate Change, of which I am a member. The report, which was laid before Parliament yesterday, showed the need for a step change in government policy if the Government are to meet their carbon emissions reduction targets in the Climate Change Act. Can he confirm, therefore, that the Government will make a step change to achieve the requirements set out in the climate change committee's report-for example, by 2020 introducing 8,000 new wind turbines, three nuclear power stations and, by 2016, four carbon capture and storage demonstration plants?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the report of the Committee on Climate Change is very important. It was published yesterday, and the Government will consider it very carefully and respond in due course. I believe that the policies that we have set out and are embarking upon do, indeed, represent a step change. The very fact that we have set a target that renewable energy should be responsible for 30 per cent of our electricity needs by 2020 is a visible indication of that step change.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the Minister is struggling manfully to cover the Government's rising panic that, because of their dithering-as we all know now from their own scientists that they put in at DECC-the lights most certainly will go out. Is he aware that in less than nine months, he will be out of his misery, because a Conservative Government, who do have a plan, will be responsible for it all?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: In your dreams, my Lords. The Government believe that we have the right energy policy. On the question of generation in the future, the fact is that more than 10 gigawatts is under

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construction, and a further 10 gigawatts has already received planning consent. I am confident that we will have the energy security and supply we need. As for dithering, what about the policy of the party opposite in relation to nuclear power and the ambiguity-to put it at its kindest-of the remarks of the leader of the Opposition?

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords-

Lord Puttnam: My Lords-

Lord Davies of Oldham: It is the turn of the government Benches.

Lord Puttnam: Can my noble friend advise the House on what progress the Government are making in establishing an economically viable pricing structure for feed-in tariffs? Without any such meaningful structure, the Government's ambitions for low-scale generation are likely to be stillborn.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we set forward a tariff in a consultative paper, we have received a lot of comments, and we will consider those and publish the finalised tariff in due course. Of course we want to make a success of feed-in tariffs. We believe that microgeneration, which is available to householders, schools and small businesses, is a fantastic way to show the way forward in relation to renewable energy. The kind of financial structure that we have put forward does, we believe, provide the answer in terms of providing the right incentives and is very much in parallel to schemes that are in operation in continental Europe.

Welfare Reform Bill

Order of Consideration Motion

3.13 pm

Moved By Lord McKenzie of Luton

Clauses 1 to 3, Schedule 1, Clauses 4 to 7, Schedule 2, Clauses 8 and 9, Schedule 3, Clauses 10 to 20, Schedule 4, Clauses 21 to 42, Schedule 5, Clauses 43 to 46, Schedule 6, Clauses 47 and 48, Schedule 7, Clauses 49 to 52.

Motion agreed.

Policing and Crime Bill

Bill Main Page
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes
10th Report from JCHR
15th Report from JCHR
9th Report from DPC

Committee (4th Day)

3.14 pm

Clause 30 : Offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place

Amendment 107

Moved by Lord Skelmersdale

107: Clause 30, page 26, line 18, leave out subsection (1)

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, if I can make myself heard, I will introduce myself by saying that although there is a new face at the Dispatch Box on this subject, it does not signify a different approach to the Bill. However, there will inevitably be a change of style.

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Our amendments in this group are designed to probe various aspects of the new offence, and clarify what the Government are intending to achieve. Why, in a word, will the new provision work? The Government are right to address the scourge of underage drinking. My noble friends Lady Hanham and Lord Bridgeman spoke of the Conservative Party's commitment to take seriously this growing problem. The shadow Secretary of State laid out further policies last week to address a problem that has only grown worse under the Labour Government. The phrase of the former Prime Minister, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime", has become a soubriquet for continuing lawlessness. I am therefore extremely doubtful that this measure will do anything significant.

First, there are already numerous powers on the statute book that the Government have brought in, in the hope that they would be used to protect communities, and the children involved in serious underage drinking. It is evident from the crime and health figures that these powers are simply not working. The problem is too great to be solved by another minor offence being added to the patchwork that we have seen over the past 13 years. This is one more example of an area where the Government have run out of steam, endlessly tweaking existing legislation rather than getting to grips with the problem and going back to basics.

I also have a few questions about the offence that my amendments are designed to probe. For example, Justice has raised the possibility that the interaction between this clause and the previous one will lead young people to be forced to incriminate themselves for a criminal offence. Will the Minister confirm whether the power in Clause 29 to take a name and address will be used to build up evidence for this offence? How else will the police know whether the same young person has been caught three times?

I would also appreciate more clarity on the level of penalty that will be imposed. Presumably, in cases where the person is under 17, the case will be held in the youth courts. What penalty would then be considered appropriate? Is my contention correct that the clause is intended to work solely in conjunction with the amended offence in Clause 29? If so, why does the legislation not make it obvious that there is a clear progression from two strikes involving confiscation to an offence on the third occasion?

Amendment 108 explores what might be considered a reasonable excuse. Is the presence of an adult sufficient, as current legislation would suggest? If so, why is that not specified? In the debates in another place, the attitude of "Of course that would be a reasonable excuse" came up a lot; and it is easy to think of situations where prosecution for an offence would be completely unwarranted. Unfortunately, with vague legislation one can almost guarantee that power will be applied inappropriately, and another young person will be criminalised. The Minister must be clearer about what sort of behaviour will fall on the wrong side of the line, and what will be considered acceptable. It is very easy to talk in black and white in this House, but it is always the grey that occurs on our country's streets that causes problems.

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Amendment 109 is intended to explore why the Government did not limit this offence to open containers only, as is the case in other legislation. I should say that I think I know the answer following a private discussion with the Minister this morning, but I think that it should be public knowledge.

Amendment 110 is designed to probe the definition of a "public place". Current legislation allows 16 and 17 year-olds to drink on licensed premises, yet here we are making it an offence for them to drink persistently in a park, for example. It appears that even where a family has hired a public place for a private party an offence could still be committed if it were to happen three times within a year. Is that the case? If so, why? I beg to move.

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): I have to inform the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 108 to 109A by reason of pre-emption.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 109A and the Question whether the clause shall stand part of the Bill. Amendment 109A seeks to introduce the concept of a breach of an acceptable behaviour contract to give effect to the Government's intentions. The proposals outlined in Clause 30 were first trailed in the Government's Youth Alcohol Action Plan published in June last year, which said that in the case of persistent public drinking by young people:

"In these cases, it is essential that any interventions should involve not only the young people themselves, but should also address the behaviour of parents who are not taking their responsibilities seriously".

I cannot disagree with that. The Government then said that they would be bringing forward legislation on persistent drinking, stating that they would,

The wording is reflected equally in the regulatory impact assessment that sits alongside the clause.

Despite that, the offence in Clause 30 does not seem to follow the stated policy objective in that it does not require a breach of an acceptable behaviour contract. It is a simple "three strikes and you're out" test, so can the Minister explain whether there has been a change in approach? If not, is it intended that ACPO or the Home Office will issue guidance on the use of the powers, such that there will be a need for a breach of an acceptable behaviour contract before the offence is deemed to have been committed?

Confiscation is a simplistic and inadequate response to the problem but at least an acceptable behaviour contract involves some co-operation with the child and his family and a more holistic approach to the problem. It is interesting that during the Recess we saw a report from the BMA, Under the Influence, about the damaging effects of alcohol marketing on young people. The solutions are all to do with marketing and not with simply removing the alcohol from the child on the street.

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We believe that this clause should be removed from the Bill because it introduces a new offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place. Those under the age of 18 can be prosecuted for this offence if they are caught with alcohol in a public place three times within a 12-month period. There is a maximum punishment of a level 2 fine, which is currently £500.

We do not agree that this new offence is either necessary or helpful. For young people who are drinking at harmful levels and getting into trouble, the most effective way of supporting them will be, as I said in debates before the Recess, through voluntary access to education and treatment, rather than through drawing them into the criminal justice system.

A large number of factors increase the risk of young people using alcohol at a harmful level, including bad example from their parents or siblings, poverty, bad housing, exclusion from school, low self-esteem, having previously been in trouble with the law, being at risk of or involved in child sexual exploitation and influence by peers. All those things are stressful to the child and may cause him to seek oblivion in alcohol; the same sort of stresses cause many adults to do the same. Addressing alcohol misuse requires an integrated approach that goes to the bottom of their problems and considers their individual needs. There is currently a lack of such services and I urge the Government to give priority to filling that gap.

Clause 30 involves the criminalisation of children by creating an offence that does not even have a parallel with adults and which unfortunately blurs the distinction between offending and non-offending. The proposed offence is unprecedented in that it criminalises something that is not in itself criminal but becomes so if done a certain number of times. In this case it is not illegal if you do it once or even twice, but it is illegal if you do it three times. That is fundamentally flawed and an undesirable approach to creating offences. It would also bring about considerable difficulties of implementation. It will require the police to record every single incidence of a child in possession of alcohol in a public place just in case they do it again, and again within the period.

I draw your Lordships' attention to the phrase, "without reasonable excuse", which is too broad and potentially very subjective. Moreover, criminalising teenagers for possessing alcohol will fast-track more children into the criminal justice system, which is not the way to tackle underage drinking. While it is currently illegal to sell alcohol to those under 18, it is not an offence for under-18s to buy alcohol or to consume it in private. The clause sends very confused messages to children. If they are inappropriately gaining access to alcohol it should be dealt with by better enforcing restrictions on sale. When it places them in danger it could be dealt with under current child protection laws. This is far preferable to the counterproductive criminalisation of those we should be trying to protect. It is also unclear what constitutes a reasonable excuse.

In the Public Bill Committee in the House of Commons on 12 February this year, the Government stated that what would constitute a reasonable excuse would be determined on a case-by-case basis by the police when enforcing the provision. We have recently seen on TV

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some examples of the somewhat questionable judgment of the police. This will mean that each police officer will have to use his or her subjective discretion on what is considered a reasonable excuse, making it unclear not only for teenagers, parents and the community as a whole how this offence will apply but making it difficult for the police themselves, to whom we should pay attention. This is an unworkable and undesirable provision that should be removed in its entirety from the Bill.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): Clause 30 introduces a new offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place for under-18s. Amendment 107, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, would effectively render this clause unworkable, which I believe would be wrong.

All of us understand the seriousness of heavy drinking-indeed, persistent heavy drinking-by young people. We are coming at it a different way. I should say at the outset that I have listened to the concerns and views expressed by some noble Lords that this offence may unnecessarily criminalise young people. I absolutely agree with those who believe that young people should not enter the criminal justice system unless it is absolutely necessary. However, I also believe that it is very important to have this legislation because while fewer young people are drinking, drinking in public by young people is unfortunately a growing problem that we need to tackle.

The need for action is illustrated by a survey, Smoking Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England in 2008, which showed that 27 per cent of 11 to 15 year-olds who drink usually do so outside in public places. This represents a 6 per cent increase from 1999. It is also usually the heaviest drinkers who drink in public. More than half of the 11 to 15 year-olds who drink more than 10 units of alcohol a week usually drink outside. That is compelling.

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