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5 Nov 2009 : Column 453

Schedule 3 : Lap dancing and other sex encounter venues etc: transitional provision

Amendments 53 and 54 not moved.

Clause 28 : Increase in penalty for offence

Amendment 55

Moved by Lord West of Spithead

55: Clause 28, leave out Clause 28

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the amendment would remove Clause 28 from the Bill. That clause increases the maximum fine for refusing to comply with a police officer's instructions to stop drinking and/or to surrender alcohol in a designated public place from £500 to £2,500. We have listened to the concerns of noble Lords expressed in Committee about the fact that the current maximum fine had never been imposed. They are right, so I accept that the practical impact of increasing the maximum fine was likely to be minimal. Therefore, I am content that this clause be removed from the Bill. I invite noble Lords to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment 55 agreed.

Clause 31 : Offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place

Amendment 56 not moved.

Clause 32 : Directions to individuals who represent a risk of disorder

Amendment 57

Moved by Lord West of Spithead

57: Clause 32, page 29, line 29, leave out from beginning to "for" in line 30 and insert-

"(1) Section 27 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (c. 38) (power to require person to leave a public place etc) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1)"

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, Amendments 57 and 58 would allow the police to take a young person home or to a place of safety if they have been issued with a direction to leave and the police reasonably suspect that they are under 16. We have listened to the concerns expressed by noble Lords in Committee about the welfare and safety of young children issued with a direction to leave. We can all agree on the importance of safeguarding such vulnerable people. Therefore, in the light of our earlier debate, I have tabled these amendments so that when the police issue a young person with a direction to leave, and they suspect that the young person is under 16, the police will be able to take them home or to a place of safety.

Under the Children Act 2004, the police already have a statutory duty to have regard to the need to safeguard and to promote the welfare of children when discharging their functions, including directions to leave. These amendments offer an important additional safeguard to protect such children without making the

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power to issue directions to leave any less effective for tackling alcohol-related problems. I invite noble Lords to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, briefly, thank you.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Walmsley, who moved our amendments in Committee, will be particularly grateful that the Government have listened so carefully and returned with something so satisfactory.

Amendment 57 agreed.

Amendment 58

Moved by Lord West of Spithead

58: Clause 32, page 29, line 31, at end insert-

"(3) After subsection (4) insert-

"(4A) A constable who gives a direction under this section may, if the constable reasonably suspects that the individual to whom it is given is aged under 16, remove the person to a place where the person resides or a place of safety.""

Amendment 58 agreed.

Clause 33 : General licensing conditions relating to alcohol

Amendment 59

Moved by Lord West of Spithead

59: Clause 33, page 29, line 33, leave out "general" and insert "mandatory"

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I shall take Amendments 59, 61, 63, 65 and 105 to 127 together. Amendment 61 inserts a new clause which would mean that members of a licensing authority are added to the definition of an interested party. In particular, that would allow them to object to a licence application or to initiate a licensing review, powers which they do not have a present. That would give them more flexibility to decide what action to take against irresponsible premises locally.

During the debate on Schedule 4 in Committee, noble Lords raised concerns about the limitations on the role of members of a licensing authority. In making these changes we have listened to the concerns of noble Lords and of the Local Government Association and others throughout our consultation events held during the summer. In deciding to table Amendment 61, we have also listened carefully to the feedback at the consultation workshops held over the summer. Both licensing authorities and the licensed trade were concerned about the practicalities of imposing licensing conditions on groups of premises at once. Amendments 63 and 65 are responding to those concerns as they would remove the provisions in Schedule 4 which allow licensing authorities to impose general licensing conditions from a prescribed list on two or more premises at once where certain conditions are satisfied.

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Amendments 59, 106, 108 and 110 to 127 are consequential to Amendments 63 and 65 and simply remove references to the locally applied conditions from Clause 33 and Schedule 7. Amendments 105, 107 and 109 are minor and technical amendments to the Licensing Act 2003 to take account of the Legislative Reform (Supervision of Alcohol Sales in Church and Village Halls &c) Order 2009, which has come into force since the Bill was introduced. These amendments ensure that, unless the order specifying the new mandatory conditions states otherwise, they will also apply to community premises. I believe that these amendments clearly demonstrate that we have listened and responded to the consultation response and to the opinions of those in this House. I beg to move.

4 pm

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, our Amendment 62 is in this group. It returns us to minimum pricing or some other way of ensuring that alcohol is not sold at such a low price as to create all the problems we have seen from vodka, white cider and so on being sold at well below cost. This amendment merely gives the interested party or responsible authority the power to apply to the licensing authority to have a licence reviewed when it believes that alcohol is persistently being sold at below cost price. I realise that at this stage of the Bill, the Government are not likely to be minded to accept this amendment, but we need to look at all the possible ways to address this issue. There is no doubt that below-cost selling is at the heart of creating a lot of the problems that we see and that we debated in Committee. I have tabled this amendment as an alternative route that the Government might like to take at some time.

Lord Rosser: My Lords, my Amendment 64 is in this group. I wish to raise concerns that have been expressed by the Central Council of Physical Recreation and by community amateur sports clubs about the likely impact on sports clubs of the schedule on general licensing conditions relating to alcohol and the associated draft code on alcohol sales. It appears that the impact will be to put further pressure on the finances of voluntary sports clubs and the goodwill of the volunteers who run them, on whom such clubs are dependant. The primary purpose of sports clubs is the promotion of sport, and all hospitality and catering income is reinvested in this purpose. The vast majority of voluntary sports clubs sell alcohol to members and guests only, primarily after sporting events. I suggest that there is no evidence of poor practice in the sale of alcohol through, for example, promotions to encourage heavy or speedy drinking, nor of alcohol-related disorder at sports clubs.

It appears that the mandatory code will place a disproportionate burden on sports clubs, which do not retail significant amounts of alcohol or contribute to social disorder. In some instances, sports clubs employ part-time bar staff, but in many instances, the operation is run entirely by volunteers. These new measures will place an additional responsibility on them, which will divert them from their primary purpose of providing sporting opportunities, and could reduce the club's

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capacity to provide positive physical activity in a social environment that contributes to well-being and community cohesion.

The key points of the additional workload are identifying a representative selection of beverages, researching unit values, which are not currently provided on all alcoholic beverages and therefore would need calculation, and preparing price and unit value information. Clubs will also be required to incur the cost of producing price and unit value lists. While the additional workload may not in itself seem overly onerous, it needs to be borne in mind that this is in the context of a range of other regulatory requirements facing voluntary clubs from child protection through to the purchase of a music licence. In totality, these time and monetary costs can present a real challenge to the viability of clubs, as volunteers can be deterred by the range of tasks that often have no direct bearing on sport, and slender margins-the average surplus of a sports club is £1,300 per annum-are eaten into. Will the Minister indicate the Government's assessment of the additional work that will arise for secretaries of voluntary sports clubs as a result of the impact of the terms of this schedule?

I appreciate that there is a need to minimise alcohol-related disorder, and that this could be an issue in high-volume drinking establishments in which it might be helpful to offer customers advice about the alcoholic strength of different drinks, but there is no evidence of a problem in sports clubs requiring this action. It would be better for club volunteers to spend the time and resources that they have to develop further the work of such clubs in the community. Bearing in mind that there are also sanctions for failing to comply, there is a real risk of deterring volunteers from operating sports clubs' bars for fear of a significant fine-or even, at the top end, of imprisonment-rather than reducing alcohol-related disorder by applying the code to sports clubs.

Once again, it would be helpful if the Minister could say what the evidence is that leads him to believe that there is a problem with alcohol-related disorder in community sports clubs that necessitates extending all the provisions of the schedule and the code to such clubs. Are there not already measures in place for tackling alcohol-related disorder through alcohol disorder zones that are not always utilised as extensively as they might?

Amendment 64 would remove some 5,000 registered community amateur sports clubs from the requirements of the part of the schedule to which it refers and of the associated draft mandatory code of practice, in particular condition 6, as the schedule's provisions on the supply of alcohol do not seem to be justified for community amateur sports clubs, would create further workload pressure on hard-pressed club secretaries and other voluntary officers, and would ultimately adversely affect the finances and the running of such clubs that provide a service to the community.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, there is no question that the current licensing regime is insufficient to regulate alcohol sales. You need only to go out to any number of our town or city centres on a Friday or Saturday night to see that irresponsible and damaging

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drinking is a serious and growing problem, but not-I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser-in responsibly run sports clubs. It is inevitable that a responsible club will look after its members and police the situation to ensure that it does not lose its licence, so I go a long way in agreeing with what the noble Lord has said.

The Government cannot decide what they should do to address this problem. It is no good using a battleship anchor to anchor a dinghy-a point which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, might have made. Over their time in government, we have seen the licensing laws relaxed to being almost non-existent, with local authorities having no control over the premises operating in their area. Now that the damage caused by policies such as 24-hour licences is being felt, the Government are struggling to come up with policies to address the natural consequences without being forced to admit that their entire licensing structure needs review.

The Government's consultation on the conditions that might be imposed shows how little they understand the problem. It included, for example, a suggestion that retailers should use robust age-verification systems-a suggestion that rang rather hollowly with an industry that launched the Challenge 25 scheme in January, which set an industry best-practice standard that anyone who appears to be under 25 should be asked for age verification. This launch was rapidly followed by a Home Office announcement that the old system of Challenge 21 should be made mandatory. Rather than freeing local authorities to respond to the challenges that they are experiencing on the ground, the Government have removed any possibility of seeing these proposals being implemented in a proportional, targeted manner. They clearly have decided not to trust local authorities to use their discretionary powers wisely, but are resorting to top-down, centralised micromanagement.

Turning to the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, I like the amended version much more than her previous one. I agree entirely that the sale of alcohol at below-cost prices is a serious problem. If I were to quibble, it would be that the amendment does not go quite far enough, as it is Conservative Party policy that the sale of alcohol at below cost price should be banned outright. In Committee, the Minister came back with a pretty unsatisfactory response, which he has followed with a truly baffling letter.

In Committee, I was able to agree with him that cheap alcohol is only part of the problem, although I should like to point out that, as the Scottish Government have realised, it is a very serious part. What I find extraordinary is the Minister's insistence that, although there is clear evidence of low prices being a cause of binge drinking, the recession is to be used as an excuse for not taking action. Supermarkets are in the business of making profit. If they use alcohol as a loss leader, it must be because extremely low-cost alcohol encourages people to buy other goods that they otherwise would not consider. Removing such irresponsible offers would save householders money, as well as immeasurably improving their health.

Similarly, the Government expressed concern for responsible drinkers. I agree with that concern, but we are clearly not talking about responsible drinkers; we are talking about people buying a crate of super-strength lager, or vodka, as the noble Baroness said, at rock

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bottom prices. How that is meant to equate to responsible drinking, I simply do not understand. The drop in alcohol prices over the past 30 years has meant that we are returning to a Hogarth-like situation where it is cheaper to buy a strong alcoholic drink than a non-alcoholic alternative. With such incentives, it is no surprise that so many people drink irresponsibly.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, Amendments 60 and 66 would remove Clause 33 and Schedule 4, which contain provisions about the mandatory code. I recognise that large numbers of retailers sell alcohol responsibly, but there are still too many irresponsible practices and promotions in operation, which simply should not happen anywhere and need to be tackled at a national level.

Earlier this year, as was mentioned by a previous speaker, we consulted on which activities should be tackled or required at a national level. We have received more than 7,000 responses and the initial findings suggest that the majority of respondents consider that these types of practices need tackling at a national level. There is also strength of feeling that the mandatory conditions need to go further than just banning irresponsible promotions, which is what Amendment 60 would limit the Bill to, and put in place national conditions that promote best practice, responsible trading and consumer choice. I will not go into detail here on what all these might be, but they are set out in our consultation. Our consultation events also highlight the concerns about local conditions, to which we have listened and responded, by tabling Amendments 61, 63 and 65, to which I spoke earlier. There is a clear need to take action at national level, which is supported by our consultation findings. For that reason, I would ask the noble Lord not to press his amendments.

Amendment 62 would allow responsible authorities and interested parties to make representations to request a licensing review if a licensed premises is persistently selling alcohol below cost. It would then also allow the licensing authority to take action against that premises, such as modifying the licence, adding conditions or even suspending or revoking the licence. This summer, we sought views on banning below-cost selling in our public consultation on the code of practice, but it would be wrong to take any action on the issue until we have fully considered the responses and the impact that such a move would have on the majority of people in this country who drink alcohol responsibly. It would be quite unfair if responsible drinkers had to pay significantly more for their alcohol because of a small minority of people who drink irresponsibly. We are doing more research into this. We need to bolster the evidence base-the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, touched on this-about the impact of cheap alcohol on crime and disorder, particularly the night-time economy.

That will also address so-called pre-loading. We also need to do further work on the economic impact of action on pricing, and we will use the new information to move forward, but a lot of work needs to be done and one cannot draw conclusions from some of the evidence. For those reasons, action on pricing should not be taken in this Bill and I invite the noble Baroness not to press her amendment.

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On Amendment 64, I thank my noble friend Lord Rosser for making me aware of his concerns, which to an extent I share. However, there is no doubt that in deciding whether to grant exceptions, we need to strike the right balance between not imposing unnecessary burdens on premises and not inadvertently weakening the mandatory code by creating an easy way to circumvent it. I disagree with my noble friend when he says that the code will place a disproportionate burden on businesses. The Government have not yet taken a final decision on what will be in the code precisely because we are mindful of its impacts. It is therefore wrong to suggest that the code will be costly when its content has not even been finalised and we are still negotiating and talking about it.

My noble friend says he does not believe that there is evidence of poor practice in the sale of alcohol in sports clubs. All I would say to him is that we have no evidence to suggest that all sports clubs are selling alcohol responsibly and are not causing problems. Indeed, within walking distance of my cottage in the country, there is a cricket club that does not even have a cricket square, but where one can get a drink pretty much all the time. I shall say no more than that. Given the importance of these issues, it would be inappropriate to grant any exemptions until we have had the opportunity fully to analyse all 7,000 responses, which is what we are doing at the moment.

I also have concerns about placing exemptions in the Bill as suggested in this amendment. If the mandatory conditions are to be effective, the decision to exempt certain premises should be made on a condition-by-condition basis. If the list of mandatory conditions is changed or updated, it will not always be appropriate for the same type of premises to be exempt. On that basis, I ask my noble friend not to press his amendment, and I hope that the government amendments will be accepted.

Amendment 59 agreed.

4.15 pm

Amendment 60 not moved.

Amendment 61

Moved by Lord West of Spithead

61: After Clause 33, insert the following new Clause-

"Individual members of licensing authorities to be interested parties

(1) In section 13(3) of the Licensing Act 2003 (meaning of "interested party": premises licences) after paragraph (d) insert-

"(e) a member of the relevant licensing authority."

(2) In section 69(3) of that Act (meaning of "interested party": club premises certificates) after paragraph (d) insert-

"(e) a member of the relevant licensing authority.""

Amendment 61 agreed.

Amendment 62 not moved.

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