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Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 76:

"( ) the protection of public health"

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 76, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 79.

The amendments explore the limits of what the Government think that licensing objectives should be. We have a later amendment, which, we hope, we will be able to debate separately, when we have explored more of the shape of the Bill as a whole in Committee. It suggests that we should have an annual report on alcohol and health that would enable us to monitor and control the effect of the changes in the law. For now, I want just to explore the principle.

The Government are quick on the draw when it comes to telling us what is good and bad for us. We cannot open a newspaper without getting a lecture on something or other. Whether it is driving, smoking, children's eating habits or fireworks, somewhere there will be a Minister lecturing us about it, a government leaflet preaching about it, a government regulation forbidding it or a government supporter itching to pass a law about it. It sometimes seems that, in this country, we cannot move for government health advice. The advice is not always clear: need I mention sex? It is not always consistent: need I mention cannabis? But it is there.

Then, we turn to the policy on licensing. That policy will set the framework for a generation for where and when people can drink. Where is health in the

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equation? I ask the Minister to answer some simple, straight questions. What are the public health advantages of 24-hour drinking? Do the Government have a view? If so, where does it inform policy? If not, where were the Health Ministers while the policy was being framed?

The Bill concedes that alcohol can be harmful. It is implicit—though not stated—in the concerns set out in the clause about disorder, public safety and public nuisance. It is explicit elsewhere. In Clause 13(4)(d), it is recognised that one of the roles of the officer of a local authority responsible for licensed premises is the prevention of "harm to human health". If it is a legitimate role for a local authority officer to prevent harm to human health in watching over licensed premises, why is that dimension not recognised—and, by implication, not permitted to be recognised—in the licensing objectives? It would be helpful for our future debates if the Minister could explain that to the Committee and, in so doing, give some assessment of the harm to human health that the Bill envisages that local authority officers—but not licensing policy—will prevent. It is all the more puzzling, given the wording of subsection (2)(d), which refers to,

    "the protection of children from harm".

We debated that with regard to Amendment No. 74, but does the harm that children may suffer include harm to health?

What is the Government's attitude to the consumption of alcohol in quantities, something that might be facilitated by 24-hour drinking? In what quantities and in what conditions could it be harmful? If it could be harmful, why do the objectives of licensing policy not include, even at the fringes of the policy, the prevention of harm? I hope that we will not see another government illogicality, combining the opening-up of unrestricted drinking hours with controls or bans on the advertising of drink. Do the Government believe that the wider availability of alcohol around the clock affects in any way the case for controlling advertising? I am not advocating such controls; I am simply inquiring into the Government's position. Imagine a situation where a street or area becomes, as some people fear may happen under the Bill, a place where all-night drinkers congregate around the clock. Some streets in London are in that category as a result of the Government's cannabis policy areas for drug use.

Is there no dimension here of risk or danger of harm to health? I am interested in the Government's response. Are they prepared to think further about those issues? I invite them to consider bringing into the Bill, in relation to licensing objectives, the same consideration for the prevention of harm to human health as appears elsewhere. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I believe that the noble Baroness started with an unfortunate metaphor. She referred to this Government being quick on the draw. It seems an unfortunate concept to suggest that seeking to improve aspects of public well-being should

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be done at the point of a gun. I say that against the background of the previous two Opposition amendments that would have increased regulation and control, which we sought to resist. Therefore, if anyone has been pointing a gun in the past half hour, I would maintain that it is the mover of previous amendments. However, let that be.

I emphasise the obvious fact. The amendments seek to add to the four licensing objectives which I explained in response to earlier debate, the promotion of public health and the prevention of harm to human health. Public health is an important issue. I understand the reasoning behind the amendments. However, they are no more justified within the framework of this Bill than protection of the environment. The wider area of the protection of public health is not within the scope of the Bill.

Having said that, certain of the Bill's measures should have a positive effect on public health. Fixed closing times or permitted hours have been associated with binge drinking as people try to consume large quantities of alcohol against the clock in an attempt to beat last orders.

If we want a reference where health has improved, we have only to look at the New Zealand and Australian experience—which I admit is not quite the Nordic example we were discussing earlier. However, the features of Australian and New Zealand culture are, for obvious reasons, more closely related to our own. The famous "six o'clock swill" occurred because pubs and bars closed at such a ridiculously early hour that people who had been hard at work all day had less than one hour in which to consume as much alcohol as possible before their time was up. The result was appalling levels of binge drinking and drunkenness generated by artificially early fixed closing times. The issues declined in salience once the licensing regime was relaxed.

The Bill will do away with artificially early fixed closing times. However, that is just one piece of the jigsaw of evidence. Following the last major liberalisation of licensing law in this country—all-day opening in 1988–89—alcohol consumption fell for several years running.

The Government recognise the motive behind the amendment. We share with the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, the fact that alcohol can do harm to health. That is why we have set up the national alcohol harm reduction strategy. The project has close links with my department, but the lead department on this strategy—the noble Baroness made reference to the question of where does the Department of Health fit—is the Department of Health.

I reiterate that the licensing objectives are designed to ensure that everyone involved in licensing concentrates on clearly focused and understandable common goals essential to the well-being of our communities and worked out in negotiations with all parties to the legislation. However, they must be realistic and must lead to terms, conditions and restrictions on licences which can be sensibly achieved by any licensee. That is why we no more believe that

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this amendment fits within the framework of the Bill than we did its immediate predecessor, with which it has a close parallel.

I hope that the noble Baroness will once again feel that I have explained the Government's position sufficiently for her to be able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Chan: Where within the licensing authority will there be an emphasis on public health? Apart from the issue of prolonged hours for drinking alcohol, other issues arise; for instance, the temptation to forget about cleaning the premises. Floors and toilets have to be cleaned and, more importantly, beer lines must be sterilised. There will be the danger of the licensee deciding to delay that cleaning because of his concern to please his clients who are there for longer periods.

There will also be prolonged exposure to a smoke-filled environment and I wonder whether that has been considered. Furthermore, members of staff must also work additional hours. Surely those issues must be highlighted within the Bill.

Lord Avebury: I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chan, that those issues should be highlighted within the Bill. We are in danger of losing sight of the overwhelming tide of alcohol that is sweeping through the country. According to the latest figures, alcohol-related illness is costing the National Health Service 2.9 billion per annum.

The Minister is out of date when he ascribes the harm to binge drinking immediately before the standard closing time of eleven o'clock. I do not know where he has been for the past few years, but patterns of drinking have changed. Pubs may close at eleven o'clock, but other establishments continue until two, three or four in the morning.

I do not know whether the Minister saw the article in the Guardian last week announcing:

    "New wave of sophisticated alcopops fuels teenage binge drinking",

or whether he read the article immediately below that stating:

    "Out on the town in Romford where 16 year-olds have 10 bottles a night".

That describes drinking patterns. One young girl aged 16 said that she goes out to the pubs and that after they close she goes into clubs. There she consumes, as the headline says, 10 bottles or even more. Some people drink 15 bottles between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. That is not the kind of binge drinking with which we were familiar a few years ago when people swallowed large quantities of alcohol immediately before closing time.

That pattern has disappeared from the drinking life of this country. The increasing consumption of alcohol is already being fuelled by establishments which open late at night. The noble Lord and his Government are proposing to extend that culture all over the country and to allow any establishment to open for as many hours as it thinks it needs to sell more alcohol. That is the only point of the exercise; establishments would not stay open all night if they were not going to

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increase their sales. As sales mount, more harm will be done to the nation's health. There is no argument whatever that the costs to this country in terms of accidents and ill health due to alcohol will increase according to the amount of alcohol that is drunk. In ignoring health issues we are setting off a time bomb. Alcohol-related harm is already ripping into our national life, causing immense harm particularly to young people.

I appeal to the noble Lord to read the document which was recently published by the Department of Health—a survey carried out by the National Centre for Social Research and the National Foundation for Educational Research, Drug use, smoking and drinking among young people in 2001. I think that it would benefit Ministers who are dealing with this Bill to look at that report. They always speak about joined-up government, but every time we ask about the harm that is caused by alcohol the Minister says that it has nothing to do with licensing. I do not accept that answer and I appeal to the Government to think again.

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