Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, it is sad that we have not seen the introduction of minimum pricing. You can see students in the streets swigging on bottles of cheap spirits, especially vodka, which they have bought in the supermarket. They are getting "plastered" before they even start to go out for the night. They are drinking a lot of alcohol to get "front-loaded" before they go out elsewhere to drink. Student balls, of which I have attended many in my more senior years-no longer as a student, have sadly sometimes been a spectacle of the most awful drunken games, with students pouring spirits into the mouth of

15 Mar 2010 : Column 531

another student lying on the ground. That has had devastating consequences in the premises, from which that group of students is often banned. I welcome anything that will stop that happening. Some of those students are admitted to hospital with alcohol poisoning. It is the irresponsible behaviour of those around that pushed them further over the top when they were already severely intoxicated.

I think that the pubs would have welcomed minimum pricing, because their biggest threat must come from sales of very cheap alcohol in supermarkets. In a pub, those drinking are overseen and there is an onus to encourage responsible drinking. Landlords in a pub are much more likely to spot the underage than the supermarket checkout person. While there is a provision in the order about ID, I have a concern about fake ID, which is readily available over the internet and which fulfils all these criteria. Indeed, I have seen fake ID cards that look completely plausible. I can see that someone working at a supermarket checkout in particular, who is not familiar with the ways of some of these young people, would be completely taken in. It has become increasingly difficult to judge the age of young people, particularly girls, by their appearance.

I would appreciate it if the Minister could clarify that the tap water provision is to deal with things like pop festivals, where it may be difficult to have a tap out in the field-although one would hope that the organisers could run a hosepipe out across the field to a point, rather than sell water at very costly prices. They could certainly have a tank out there. I hope that there will be some imposition on pop concerts for drinkable water-"potable", from the French-to be supplied. With those reservations, I hope that nobody in this House will reject this order, because it will take us no further forward at all to do so.

Lord Redesdale: It was my intention to oppose the order, although not for the reasons given by the noble Baroness-that some of us support irresponsible drinking. My issue with this comes from having dealt with the Licensing Act 2003. I remember that the Government pushed the Bill because they said that we were going to go for a continental-style café culture. Many of us argued that that would not be the case and that 24-hour drinking was not such a brilliant idea. I speak as someone with an interest, as I own a pub, and I understand that many landlords do not want to be open all hours of the day and night.

The important issue, and the reason why I oppose the order, is that the 2003 Act was meant to be a liberalising measure whereby local decision-making could deal with local problems. As the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said, we cannot make rules top-down that would outlaw binge drinking; if we could, the major pieces of legislation that have been enacted would have had some effect. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, struck at the heart of the matter: pubs and clubs are usually a regulated environment. Some have problems, but usually they are a regulated environment. Indeed, under the 2003 Act, it is an offence to serve somebody who is drunk. The point that the noble Baroness made about people drinking before they go out is the real issue. The violence that

15 Mar 2010 : Column 532

takes place is often due to the very cheap alcohol that people can get from supermarkets. I was discussing this at a dinner party the other night and then counted the bottles afterwards. It is interesting what hypocrisy we all suffer from when talking about other people's drinking habits; we are a nation that drinks far too much.

I declare another interest as chairman of Best Bar None, a Home Office-funded scheme, which works with the pub and club trade to raise standards. The winner of the best scheme last year was Durham, where there has been a 36 per cent reduction in violent crime in the city centre. That is good for business as well, because there has been an increased footfall. Leicester won the year before; there was a 26 per cent reduction. Instead of bringing forward these mandatory codes, which cause an enormous amount of paperwork and bureaucracy for all involved-and the costs do not take into account the fact that there is an enormous amount of red tape for any landlord-we should make the system as simple as possible. However, we must make all those laws enforceable and all those people holding a premises licence act to the best of their abilities. That would bring down violent disorder.

One issue that I have with these mandatory codes relates to the question asked in the consultation process: why are we undertaking more mandatory codes rather than enforcing the laws that already exist? The answer reportedly given by the Home Office was that local authorities are not enforcing the laws. We have the laws in place; we just have to make sure that they are enforced. I very much hope that some of the issues raised here will not make life very difficult. It seems utterly ridiculous that, if you have a 24-hour policy on your books, you could have a problem, even if you are acting in a responsible manner, because you could lose your licence or be fined by the local authority, whereas someone who had only an 18-hour licence may not be. That is one problem that I have with the drafting.

I do not believe that there needs to be a vote on this, because I do not believe that it would take anything forward. We need to promote good-practice schemes. Instead of having poorly drafted and draconian legislation, we need to work with the pub industry within the regulated environment and deal with the unregulated drinking that is taking place on every street corner in the country, including the underage youth drinking, which is a major problem. One issue that I have with this measure is that it talks about irresponsible pubs. In this House, I have heard people giving examples of massive drinking taking place in one pub or another. However, such drinking does not generally take place in responsible, regulated premises, because the measures in the 2003 Act mean that a pub could be closed down. I take on board entirely the point about the health implications, but we need to work with the industry, which is regulating, because we are not going to ban alcohol in this country in the very short term.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I, too, was involved in the 2003 Act and was one of those who foresaw that there may be problems in a good many areas with the relaxation taking place. I look back now and see what has happened over the ensuing period and, while I support the measure before us this

15 Mar 2010 : Column 533

evening, I tend a little towards the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale-I would be surprised if a great deal changed as a result of this order being put into force.

If there was ever a case for post-legislative scrutiny, this is it. We should be taking the 2003 Act and working through it, consulting the public directly about what they think. Wherever I go, there is a general feeling that what has happened since 2003 has been quite disastrous from a whole variety of standpoints, not least the wide-scale extension of the granting of leases to sell alcohol. It is easy now to get your hands on alcohol. The situation would have been beyond belief when we passed the Act in 2003.

I live in Brighton and I have a few statistics for the Minister. For every 84 households in Brighton and Hove, there is now a bar or an off-licence to supply alcohol. There are 1,362 places selling alcohol-one for every 150 adults in Brighton. The director of public health, Dr Tom Scanlon, states that 25 per cent of the 205,000 adults in Brighton are drinking hazardously, with alcohol-related admissions to local hospitals doubling between 2003 and 2008. Thirty-six men and women out of every 100,000 Brightonians are dying from alcohol-related issues. This is an epidemic. If it was under a different heading-"Accidents on the road", for example-people would be crying scandal and saying that something must be done about it.

We have some major problems. I am sorry that the Government have still not been prepared to embrace the minimum alcohol pricing per unit. My question to my noble friend is: when are we going to do something about pricing? Equally, I come back to the point about the granting of local licences. It appears that localism is operating in the granting of licences. However, when one examines what each of the responsible bodies involved with granting the licences is saying, they are all unhappy with the situation and are blaming each other-or someone-for having created this liberalism that means that virtually anybody who wants a licence these days can get one without too much trouble. In an area not covered by the debate this evening, we have seen the growth of the granting of off-licence premises licences. The number that has been granted is phenomenal. If you walk down the street now and look at a shop, it will say not just "Grocer", but, "Off-licence", all tagged on. In the area where I live in Brighton, almost everyone now has a licence. Some of them are even open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and residents are complaining about the noise and activities that go on around them. This has to be addressed-and in a much stronger fashion than we have been willing to do so far.

As I say, I support the instrument before us. It is better having these provisions than nothing at all, but really we need a more fundamental review in the future, hoping that the Government are back in power. I trust that the Minister can give some indication of the areas that need further work and say where we might see far more effective policies brought to bear-perhaps even a piece of post-legislative scrutiny.

Lord Rea: I reply briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. Does he not believe the words in the Explanatory Memorandum which state that the

15 Mar 2010 : Column 534

mandatory regulation has been made necessary because the voluntary code, agreed by the industry in 2005, has not been followed? The document states:

"Whilst the majority of premises are well-run, the review revealed a disturbing level of irresponsible and harmful practice in significant sectors of the industry, along with evidence that the current social responsibility standards were not being consistently applied or were ineffective in promoting good practice".

I am sure that that does not apply to his own pub, which I am sure is run impeccably, but a lot of people out there are not sticking to that voluntary code of practice, which is the reason for these mandatory regulations. I do not think that it is enormously draconian-it is really quite a small raft of mandatory conditions. This is a useful, but not sufficient, regulation.

8.15 pm

Lord Brett: My Lords, as ever when we discuss orders such as this, the number of questions is legion. I will seek to do my best with all of them, or certainly most of them. If I fail, I will write to your Lordships. Also, there is always a bit of a disadvantage for the opposition spokespersons, who have to decide what they are going to say before they hear the Minister's speech. A number of questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, were dealt with in my opening statement.

I will deal with specific points. Why did we say nine and why have we only introduced five? The Policing and Crime Act allows for up to nine conditions. This would ensure that we got the balance right between central government setting out what licensed premises should be doing and leaving local licensing authorities in the driving seat. All the stakeholders and general public suggest that the issues set out in this order are those on which it is right to take action now. I turn to an important point that my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe and others have raised. This does not mean that in the future more will not be added or, indeed, some removed. Having up to nine conditions set out in secondary legislation gives us flexibility to tackle any issues that arise in future.

For example, we can see the connection between binge drinking and health issues, but we are not in a clear position to see the relationship between drinking alcohol bought from supermarkets, for example, and crime-related issues. We all feel that we have seen something, but we need evidence. The University of Sheffield is undertaking a further piece of research for us, which will be available later this spring. If there were compelling evidence and the Government decided to introduce minimum unit pricing, there is no reason why that could not be done within the remaining four unallocated parts of the order. It would then be subject to affirmative resolution in this House, but this is not something that is set in stone.

On the question of whether drinking water would need to be of a potable standard, it has to be tap water and therefore by definition has to be of a potable standard.

Lord Skelmersdale: I do not know when the Minister was last on a train, but cold water comes out of a tap that firmly states that the water is not for drinking. Trains serve alcohol, after all.

15 Mar 2010 : Column 535

Lord Brett: Trains also serve tea. As far as I understand it, non-potable water is not used for making tea. That is a tiny point. The truth is that in the past there has been a reluctance to provide tap water in some areas, but in the majority of cases it is provided without too much difficulty. A good point was made about pop festivals, which cover a large area. If the licensing law demands that something happens, it will be for the promoters to find a way of making it happen. They will not be relieved of that duty.

Another point about water was determining what was reasonable. If you suddenly lost your water supply at 10 o'clock at night in your pub, it would not be reasonable to expect you to provide tap water. But it would be totally unreasonable if you said, "We haven't had any tap water for three weeks and we are not bothering to get it repaired. When the man comes round to fix it we'll start giving you tap water but in the mean time, tough". It is a question of common sense.

There was another fear that this will impinge on the Challenge 21 and Challenge 25 schemes. There seems to be some worry in the minds of noble Lords that this could have a damaging effect. It does not bring an end to Challenge 21. Any business choosing to operate a scheme that builds in due diligence by asking those who may appear to be under 21 and could be potentially under the legal age of 18 would not be punished for not asking for the ID of a 20 year-old. The IDs that will be considered are the ones with holograms such as a driving licence, pass or passport.

I recommend a very useful piece of plastic-an ID card-which will provide not only the ability to go into clubs and pubs and prove your age but the ability to travel around Europe without carrying your passport. One of the difficulties of young people carrying passports, as I know to my cost, is that they get badly damaged by people carrying them to prove their age in pubs and clubs. They are carried in the back pockets of jeans which are then subject to rather violent dancing on occasions, so there is damage.

Lord Redesdale: Is the Minister saying that the licensing authority would have to run a challenge scheme to get their licence? If that is the case, there would be a problem.

Lord Brett: As I explained in my opening statement, we are working with the industry to ensure that we have verification schemes in place that meet the aims with minimum additional cost to the industry by the time this comes into effect in October. We are anxious to ensure that we put in place what is already in place for the vast majority of people. Many parts of the industry have already introduced these schemes, hence the requirement to carry your passport or ID. The short answer to the noble Lord's question is no.

Is it an offence to sell to under-18s if they do not have an ID? The offence at the present time is not the ID check but the selling of alcohol. The order will bring a requirement for the first time to check the ID. The noble Lord is also concerned about whether our response is disproportionate. We believe that it is not given the high level of public concern about alcohol-related crime and disorder-we heard some examples from

15 Mar 2010 : Column 536

the noble Lord himself. Some 26 per cent feel that drunken or rowdy behaviour is a particular problem in their local area. A key figure of 90 per cent of respondents to the public consultation supported a mandatory code of practice, which answers the question of whether what we are doing will bring confidence to the public. I believe that it will.

The five minimum standards that we have set out are not disproportionate. We believe that the costs are reasonable and will not apply to many business premises. We cannot leave local authorities to do it all by encouraging them to review every licensed premises, because there are 130,000 of them. This way, by bringing in mandatory requirements, we achieve that end with a much smaller cost to local authorities. We argue that local authority enforcers should be making the most of the powers available to them. That is why we have a large training programme in place to ensure that police and licensing authorities are fully aware of the powers they have and how they use them. We are running a series of two-day alcohol enforcement training seminars in our 50 priority areas aimed at magistrates, court officials, elected members who sit on licensing committees and operational police officers. This training will ensure that those in the front line are aware of the tools and powers available to them and are confident in using those powers.

The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked whether any lawyers outside the Home Office had seen the order. This went to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments; legal advice was given to that committee and the drafting was indeed amended to take account of and reflect those comments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, also raised the question of the national application of mandatory standards over the localism of the licensing act. It cannot be seriously argued that this order shifts the balance of the licensing act in favour of central government over local discretion. What we hope it does is give new powers to individual councillors in the Policing and Crime Act to allow them to act as interested parties so that they can call for a licensing review themselves. We also recognise that local discretion is the right way forward in most circumstances. There are two mandatory conditions, however, for a licensed premises which supplies alcohol. This is right because it is right for government to send out minimum standards that they expect all retailers to adhere to. This is what we are doing in this order. That is why we think-

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, my particular question was about the response from the local government world to the consultation.

Lord Brett: I was going to come to that. The Local Government Association did not in fact support these proposals. However, many local licensing authorities and local authorities did. Somewhere here I have a list of them as long as your arm-from Northumberland to Birmingham. My noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe cited Brighton and the very large number of licensing establishments in one form or another there. Brighton, however, is not typical, because it is a

15 Mar 2010 : Column 537

seaside resort. Brighton has an influx of visitors, both on a holiday basis and for the weekend or for just a day. You could apply the same criteria to Blackpool and a number of other seaside resorts that would not necessarily apply in smaller areas. He talks of the number of inhabitants per licensed premises. In my village, for example, there are 2,500 people and one licensed establishment-the pub-and no off-licence.

What we are seeking to do is support that localism because the conditions will change very considerably over the country as a whole. That is presumably why we have a variety of supportive statements from everything from Kensington and Chelsea, Birmingham City Council, Sefton council, Runnymede, Northumbria, Cumbria, Bury-my second favourite football team-Sandwell and Newcastle-under-Lyme. In those terms, we are seeking to look at and ban the extreme ends of the promotions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked me if we were banning the yard of ale. The answer is that if the yard of ale is to be drunk in the time determined by the recipient or purchaser of it, that is one thing. If they are in a race to get it down their neck as quickly as possible, that we think is irresponsible.

The other basic issue, of course, is that when we produce the guidance, it will be in plain English to make it very clear what will fall clearly on one side and clearly on the other side of what is deemed to be responsible. The guidance will be encouraging those who seek to make a promotion, whether it is a regular one or just a one-off, to first approach their local authorities if they have any doubts.

As to the question about age verification in respect of mail order and online sales-like the wine clubs that some of us belong to-the answer is that it will make no difference there. There is a responsibility on the person who is selling the wine to verify that those who are seeking to buy it are over 18. That is normally done because they want you to pay by credit card. But there is no requirement at the present time on the person who delivers the wine. When it is delivered to your house, if your 14 year-old daughter or son signs for it, it will in no way be an issue.

Another question related to the licence-holder of the premises and who has the responsibility for the age verification. We believe that that belongs to the person who is responsible for the licence of the premises. Clearly, they will be responsible for their staff, who could be part-time. They will know how to advise their staff, having determined their own policy in line with the order. I believe I have dealt with minimum pricing.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, that the order, with the new powers in the Policing and Crime Act, puts more power in the hands of local people. As I have said, local council members can call for reviews based on the concerns of local residents. On the question of minimum unit prices and cheap supermarket alcohol, I recognise some of those circumstances. That is why what seems to many people to be an esoteric issue is quite serious: people having alcohol poured into their mouths, usually, as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, says, when they are already inebriated. This can have serious effects on both their behaviour and their health.

15 Mar 2010 : Column 538

On the question of forms of ID, we have given a list of those that will need to have holograms. I recognise that there is an industry out there that is always able to produce a fake of something you want to be genuine. There is a limit to how far we can go but our approach is as firm as it can be.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page