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Baroness Buscombe moved amendment No. 74:

The noble Baroness said: This, again, is a probing amendment. It relates to Clause 4(2)(d) but deals with a different point. We are seeking to understand the meaning of,

    "the protection of children from harm"—

this being one of the four licensing objectives to which licensing authorities must constantly refer when carrying out their functions. We want to understand exactly what kinds of harm the Government have in mind.

We see from paragraph 38 of the Explanatory Notes that the Government do not intend this provision to apply in the context of physical safety. In a piece of drafting which is typically obtuse, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport states:

    "The fourth licensing objective relates to harm to children beyond matters relating to physical safety".

It does not, however, go on to state the kinds of harm that the Government have in mind. Do they have in mind the harm that may be caused by alcohol; or by passive smoking, so that licensed premises may be required to install smoke extractors or provide non-smoking areas? Do they mean the protection of children from individuals who might seek to cause them harm? The Minister may say that the Government envisage all these factors falling within the definition of "harm".

How do the Government envisage individual local authorities interpreting such a broad provision? Is there not at least some scope for widely differing interpretations of the law because of the extremely broad nature of the drafting, so that something that is deemed harmful to children by one licensing authority will not be deemed harmful by another.

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I am not for one minute saying that we should not take the protection of children into account. I am inviting the Minister to set out more fully the Government's position on the kinds of harm that they believe are relevant in this context.

I should also appreciate an explanation from the Minister as to why, as stated in the Explanatory Notes, the Government do not believe that children's physical safety should come within the concept of "harm", and why, if that is so, it is not made plain on the face of the Bill. The only reference to it occurs in the Explanatory Notes.

I refer to a letter dated 13th November 2002 from the Secretary of State. It begins, "Dear colleagues", and states:

    "I expect the Bill to deliver inter alia reductions in under-age purchase and consumption of alcohol and the long-term damage that does to children in terms of educational attainment, poor health, job prospects and the propensity to commit crime".

We are pleased that the Bill is supposed to deliver this; but the question is: how? These are all aspects of "harm".

We believe that the present law concerning the consumption of alcohol by children is deeply confusing to parents. But how does liberalising the law with regard to children protect them from harm? I beg to move.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury: Perhaps I may refer to a briefing note sent by ACPO to a number of noble Lords prior to Second Reading which makes specific reference to children. ACPO expressed concern that exposing children at what is a crucial stage in their development to an environment in which drink is consumed might be likely to lead them towards a drinking culture—as ACPO expresses it—which the Government's forthcoming alcohol strategy may wish to target. So there is an inconsistency in government policy here. On the one hand, we are moving slowly towards a strategy for reducing the harm that alcohol does; on the other, we propose to make it easier for children to enter such establishments and to be drawn into a drinking culture.

ACPO goes on to set out its serious concern about the position of unaccompanied young people in licensed premises, as they will be in what is essentially an adult environment and will be exposed to moral harm and danger. That is one answer to the question put by the noble Baroness. It is not simply a question of the consumption of alcohol but of the uninhibited conduct into which young people may be led as a result of consuming too much alcohol.

ACPO states that it is aware that some European countries have a relaxed attitude to children on licensed premises, but it goes on to point out that in Europe there is a completely different approach to drinking. It says that although it may be beneficial for us to move towards a similar environment in this country, habits are deeply ingrained here and it is unlikely that we shall see a sudden transformation as

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a result of the Government's licensing policy into the kind of drinking culture that prevails in, for example, France or Italy.

While on the subject of harm, perhaps I may refer to a study that was undertaken in Liverpool between one of the foremost clubs there and the accident and emergency department in the renowned local hospital, where patients were brought from a particular nightclub. It was found that, among 777 patients included in the study, assault accounted for most presentations—57 per cent; lacerations were the most common injuries; and alcohol was the most common intoxicant associated with attendance at the A&E department. So when we talk about "harm", we are talking about a whole range of possibilities that may affect young people as a result of encouraging them to take part in the late-night drinking culture that the Bill introduces.

We can already see the effects of such a culture in London. As I recounted on the first day in Committee, I spent a night going round central London with the police, first from the West End Central police station and, secondly, from the Charing Cross station and observing the behaviour of young people on the streets in the neighbourhoods of Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Soho, Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square. It would be extremely difficult for anyone, whether a licensee or the police, to know the age of certain young people, particularly girls dressed over their age. I should not like to be in the position of a licensee attempting to distinguish between someone who is just under 18 and someone who is just over 18. The literature shows that it is common for under-age drinking to occur in establishments such as these clubs, where the lighting is very poor and the activities are so frenetic that it would be impossible as a practical matter for the person serving the drinks—

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I support what he says. Most of the young people concerned have false identification, which can be bought on the Internet. So even if asked for identification, they have something to show. I agree with the noble Lord about young people being overdressed, and with all his other points. The poor licensee has the worst problem, as he is offered false identification.

Lord Avebury: The noble Lord makes a good point. The Portman Group has introduced a scheme to issue proof-of-age cards to young people. Does the Minister know whether those cards are used? Has she discussed it with club operators? Has she talked to them about the difficulties, and their problems, in preventing underage drinking? Does she know about the false identity cards that some people carry, or have those matters been left to chance? We are exposing young people to considerable harm of various kinds. I welcome the fact that the noble Baroness has tabled this amendment to enable us to highlight the problem.

The Earl of Onslow: I have considerable sympathy with the Government on this issue, because it is a

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difficult one. There is a culture north of Calais or thereabouts to go out and get absolutely rat-arsed, to give a frequently used expression. One need only watch television programmes featuring 18 year-olds in Ibiza to see that their sole aim is to get into the state that I referred to—it is sufficient to use the expression once; twice would be insensitive.

How do we adapt? I do not know. Garibaldi had British volunteers who all behaved terribly badly, so he sent them home. He could not stand them getting into the state that I referred to. The soldiers in the 1914 war, when they went on leave if they were lucky enough to survive, drank wine in a tankard in the belief that it was a pint of beer. There is a culture in Nordic countries of getting completely sloshed.

Harm must be defined. Licensing authorities must take that into account. I accept that I am being beastly to the noble Baroness by taking the issue beyond the context of the clause. But those aspects must be borne in mind. Frankly, I do not know how to. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, brought them up in a better informed, and perhaps less flowery, way than I did.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to everyone who participated in this short debate for raising an issue that concerns us all. The Government's licensing objective in Clause 4(2)(d), which focuses on children, has been carefully drafted. It is intended to assure the protection of children from physical, moral and psychological harm. The physical safety of children is covered by Clause 4(2)(b), which relates to public safety in relation to licensed premises.

This amendment focuses on the particular needs of children. I share the views of all noble Lords who participated and emphasise that we need to be concerned not only with children's physical safety but their moral and psychological health. Alcohol consumption is an important issue. This is a liberalising measure to create a healthier environment for children on licensed premises. The Bill tightens significantly the law on alcohol consumption by minors. We have offered greater access, with a strict prohibition on consumption anywhere on licensed premises, which is not the case at present. An exception applies where 16 to 18 year-olds, accompanied by adults, consume alcohol at a meal. Alcohol consumption by children is strictly controlled by the Bill.

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