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The Earl of Onslow: I am a seeker of information. The word "meal" summons up a picture of parents and kiddies dining at a restaurant table. Down the line, could the definition of a meal broaden to include stuffing a sandwich into one's face while sitting on a bar stool?

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am well aware that the definition of a meal may be in the eyes of the partaker. Let me be clear: we are talking about the judgments taken by a licensing authority about the basis on which

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children are consuming food in a pub. Clearly, the licensing authorities would not be satisfied that a packet of crisps is a meal. They will have guidance; they will be concerned about children's health and will be expected to set a framework in which a meal means sitting down with adults in civilised circumstances for a knife-and-fork meal.

That is the premise on which we seek to tackle the issue that, rightly, has been identified. We all have anxieties about our stand-up-and-drink culture. I am glad that the culture has not been apostrophised in this debate as being British. It is wider. The phrase "Nordic" may not be all-encompassing, but we know that the culture obtains differently in northern Europe than in the south. We are all aware of this feature.

How should we improve young people's approach to alcohol? Surely by seeking to mirror, in many ways, the successful, different culture of countries which we admire where children accompanied by adults drink alcohol at meals on licensed premises that are part of a considerably more civilised framework than ours at present. We emphasise that we seek to ensure that all aspects of children's health—physical, moral and psychological—should be taken into account. That is why the Bill is drafted as it is. Its wording should be retained. If we leave open the wording as the amendment suggests, we leave open the potential for damaging uncertainty in the interpretation of the Bill. But all noble Lords have emphasised how important it is that it be clearly established, clearly understood and part of the framework within which licences are granted.

I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said about identifying young people's age. That problem is always with us. In the United States, age identification must be shown and is often challenged by barmen. We often hear stories of how rigorous the system is. Although it is rigorous, it does not protect against the problem of document forgery, which was indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. We recognise that the forgery of documents to adopt a false identity is a difficult problem for police in the most stringent circumstances, such as access to a country, let alone seeking to buy a drink in a bar. However, the Government welcome the identity card launched by the Portman Group, which is a signal of an earnest intention to try to prevent direct access to alcohol by young people who know that they are breaking the law at the time of purchase. We commend that move.

The noble Baroness said that her amendment was a probing device. I can reassure her that one of the four objectives in the licensing arrangements under the Bill is the protection of children from harm. We are expressing that aim both precisely and in the widest possible terms, not just in terms of physical safety. We bear in mind not only all the representations that have been made to us by a whole range of organisations concerned with the welfare of children but also those made in tonight's debate. On that basis, and with those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

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7.30 p.m.

Lord Avebury: If they really want to prevent harm to young people, why have not the Government included in the Bill provision for the compulsory production of proof-of-age cards based on biodata in exactly the same way as has been done in the case of asylum seekers? The latter all possess identity cards, which give them access to benefits under the supplementary benefits system. We are all concerned about the harm that may be caused to children through being able to enter establishments and purchase alcohol when they are under 18. Therefore, as the technology exists to prevent that happening, why is there no such provision in the Bill?

The Earl of Onslow: Perhaps I may assist the Minister. It seems to me to be very simple. We are saying that children should not be allowed to drink alcohol under the age of 18. Therefore, they must have an identity card to show that they are under that age. The whole object of the child is to persuade the barman that he is over the age of 18. If he is over 18, he can say, "I don't have an identity card. Therefore, I do not need to be banned from drinking because I am over 18". It is a different situation from that of an immigrant; it is a totally different concept and does not help the Minister at all.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am not seeking to arbitrate between two conflicting views on the Opposition Benches. Perhaps I may make the obvious point. The Licensing Bill is scarcely a Bill through which we would introduce the whole issue and concept of identity cards, upon which there are many divisions in our society as regards their merits. Indeed, I should think that there are probably many divisions on the Liberal Democrat Benches regarding the desirability of identity cards.

I was not seeking to try to introduce a national system of identity cards for children under the age of 18; I was seeking to commend the voluntary moves by the Portman Group to address aspects of the problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, rightly pointed out, there are always difficulties with this kind of exercise. I hope that the noble Lord recognises that if we were to go down the road of dealing with the real issues surrounding the concept of identity cards, we would do so through a separate piece of legislation introduced by the Home Office—a department for which I do not have responsibility. That is my response to the noble Lord.

Baroness Buscombe: I thank the Minister for his response. I believe that I have bad news for everyone in this Chamber; indeed, news about which my noble friend Lord Hodgson is already well aware and to which he referred earlier. Probably all children and young people aged between 14 and 15 know exactly what they need to do to obtain a fake identity card. In fact, almost all the premises that they enter quite sensibly and quite rightly ask for some form of identification. It is not something that is peculiar to the

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United States; it is commonplace and common practice in this country. Publicans are doing all that they can to work within the law. On a nightly basis, they have great difficulty in discriminating between young people on the question of age. I have a daughter aged 15 who could easily pass as a mature 21 year-old. She tells me that she and others ought to have identity cards. It is a status symbol, as much as anything else, to have an ID card that one can buy through the Internet.

There is a problem to be addressed. It is one of the reasons for raising the issue. Consumption of alcohol by the young is not, I fear, covered in the Bill. I have every sympathy, as I believe is the case with all noble Lords, with what the Government are seeking to achieve in this legislation. We want liberalisation of our licensing laws. In fact, I should probably declare an interest here in that my father was a wine merchant for 43 years. His belief was, and still rightly remains, that young people should be encouraged to drink, albeit in small quantities, from a fairly young age, as we were. I believe that that is right. I understand that that is what the Government are seeking to achieve. However, that was experienced in our own home where it was measured and carefully considered.

We are talking about children and young people being allowed to enter pubs and licensed premises—perhaps I should say "hang out"—unaccompanied. Yes, I understand that the idea is to help change the culture of going out to get drunk. But our concern is that this approach may not achieve that aim. Behind this probing amendment is the concern that we are giving local authorities an enormous responsibility under these provisions. They will, of course, ably accept and take on such responsibility; but when things go wrong, as I am sure they might, this will rebound on local authorities. Therefore, it is only right that they should have as much information from the Government and as much understanding of the parameters as possible.

Local authorities should also be aware of what it is that they are supposed to achieve to ensure that licensed premises within their localities are doing the right thing by local residents, by the industry and by children. That is the reason for tabling this probing amendment. I do not wish to take the matter further. We are concerned for the future, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I beg to move that the House be resumed. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 37 minutes past eight o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

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Access to Justice Act 1999 (Solicitors' Practising Certificates) Order 2002

7.28 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 13th November be approved [First Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Scotland, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I should also declare an interest as my partner is a solicitor in practice.

It is proposed that this instrument be made in exercise of the powers conferred on the Lord Chancellor by Section 47(1) of the Access to Justice Act 1999 to amend Section 11(3) of the Solicitors Act 1974. The order is subject to affirmative resolution by virtue of Section 47(2)(b) of the Access to Justice Act 1999.

Section 1 of the Solicitors Act 1974 gives the Law Society the power to require solicitors to hold a practising certificate in order to practise. Section 11(1) of the Solicitors Act 1974 provides that the Law Society may charge a fee for the issuing of practising certificates. Section 11(3) of the Act provides that all moneys raised by the issuing of practising certificates,

    "shall be applied in such manner as the Society may think fit for the purpose of the Society, including facilitating the acquisition of legal knowledge".

The purpose of the order is to ensure that the application of fees raised by the Law Society from compulsory subscriptions is, unlike hitherto, restricted to those purposes which the Law Society performs in the public interest, and from which both the public and the Government benefit.

In seeking approval to this order, I make it clear that the Government believe that it is right that a professional body should be able to spend money generated from compulsory subscriptions on certain activities only. However, by the same context, the Government have no wish whatever to stifle the many useful functions in the public interest which the Law Society currently performs, and from which both the public and the Government benefit.

The Lord Chancellor made this clear to Parliament during the passage of the Access to Justice Act when he said: "'practice support' or practice management and the 'raising and maintenance of standards' will be covered by compulsory fees . . . These activities are entirely compatible with the role of the regulatory body".—[Official Report, 14/7/99; col. 458.]

Section 47(1) of the Access to Justice Act 1999 provides that the Law Society should be restricted in its application of fees raised from the issuing of practising certificates to,

    "(a) the purposes of the regulation, education and training of solicitors and those wishing to become solicitors, or (b) both those purposes and such other purposes as the Lord Chancellor considers appropriate".

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Proposals made to the Lord Chancellor by the Law Society have been considered by the Legal Services Consultative Panel. The panel recommended that the wording proposed by the Law Society should be adopted in any order made under Section 47(1) of the 1999 Act.

The Lord Chancellor has in turn considered the Law Society's proposals and the advice given to him by the Legal Services Consultative Panel. He has also been very diligent and taken account of the desirability of approving purposes for the Law Society which are broadly similar to those already approved in respect of the General Council of the Bar.

The Lord Chancellor has concluded that, subject to a number of drafting changes, the Law Society's proposals should remain essentially unchanged. Those proposals have subsequently been agreed by the Law Society and the Master of the Rolls. The order now before the House would therefore amend Section 11(3) of the Solicitors Act 1974 by specifying revised purposes for which the Law Society may apply any funds raised from the issuing of practising certificates.

The revised purposes are: the regulation, accreditation, education and training of solicitors and those wishing to become solicitors, including the maintaining and raising of their professional standards and giving advice on practice management and practical support for solicitors' practice; the participation by the Law Society in law reform and the legislative process; the provision by solicitors, and those wishing to become solicitors, of free legal services to the public; the promotion of the protection by law of human rights and fundamental freedoms; and the promotion by the Law Society of professional interests through discussion with, and participation in the activities of, relevant national and international bodies, governments and the legal professions of other jurisdictions.

It is my view that all of these activities, which are already undertaken by the Law Society on the basis of subscriptions from its members, are useful functions, clearly in the public interest. It would, of course, continue to be open to the Law Society to pursue other, representative activities provided that it does so on the basis of funds raised from other sources.

In my view, the provisions of this order amending Section 11(3) of the Solicitors Act 1974 are compatible with the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Since an amendment of this nature, adding to the purposes for which fees might be raised by the issuing of practising certificates, was anticipated during the Access to Justice Act 1999 implementation debates, and since Section 47(1) makes specific provision for the exercise of these amending powers, I invite the House to approve the order.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 13th November be approved [First Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

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