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Lord Crickhowell: I support my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts and seek clarification. I confess that I buy my whisky at the Sainsbury store on the other side of the river here and fill up at the same Sainsburyas, I dare say, do other Members of the Committee. However, my questions arise from the situation in a little village that I know near my home in Wales. I am not sure what constitutes premises that are primarily a garage. There is a village store that has some petrol pumps on one side. The chap comes out of the store to sell the petrol and frequently, while he is filling my tank, I go into the shop to buy goods. At exactly the same distance on the other side of the store is the village pub. So if anyone wanted to occupy the time while the tank was being filled, he could pop into the village pub and buy some drink.
However, without looking at the accounts of my friend who runs that operation on a monthly or annual basis, I could not begin to know whether he is selling more goods in his shop or petrol, or whether that varied from year to year or month to month. Exactly how are the garages to be affected defined? Finally, if I owned a garage in a village and the village shop next door decided to establish separate companies and called one "Village Shop Ltd" and the other "Village Garage Ltd" but continued to operate them alongside each other, would I get round the provision or not? We are in jungle territory, and I should like to know exactly how we get out of the jungle.
Baroness Blackstone: The prohibition as it affects garage premises does not prevent licensing authorities, as at present, from licensing the sale of alcohol at garages at which the primary use of the premisesin effect, the intensity of their use by customersis not as a garage. The clause defines use as a garage if the premises are used for the retailing of petrol or derv, or the sale or maintenance of motor vehicles.
Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, and others suggested, we have made the provision in recognition of the fact that the garage shop often plays a vital role in rural communities, where it may be the only store in a locality. We therefore do not intend to remove the special provision, which currently allows around 550 garages in England and Wales to sell alcohol. Indeed, if the garage owned by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, was making more profit from items sold other than petrol, it could almost certainly have obtained an alcohol licence and could continue to do so under the Bill. I do not know whether the noble Lord will consider buying back the garage in the light of that. However, to respond to the noble Lord's point about superstores, they will be able to continue to sell petrol if they want to.
Baroness Buscombe: I hope that the Minister will forgive me for intervening at this point, but surely the principle in relation to drink-driving would apply whether or not the premises were used primarily as a garage.
Baroness Blackstone: I recognise that the question posed is perfectly reasonable, but it is a matter of considering the balance of different issues. It would be unreasonable for the Government to prevent a shop that was the only local shop from selling alcohol because it happened also to sell petrol on the side. That is entirely different from a motorway service station selling bottles of whisky or other alcohol to people who are about to set off down the motorway. It is a question of using common sense in making decisions about where such sales are appropriate.
Before the noble Baroness intervened, I was about to say that we can be pleased that there were about 480 alcohol-related fatalities in Great Britain in 2001, compared with more than 1,600 in 1979. So there has been a substantial reduction, and it would be unfortunate to put that at risk by giving out the kind of mixed messages about alcohol and driving that allowing widespread sales of alcohol from all garages would undoubtedly represent.
Perhaps I should remind Conservative Members of the Committee that the provisions linking the right of garages to obtain alcohol licences were introduced relatively recently by a Conservative Government. Road safety organisations and those concerned about drink-driving would be surprised if there was a complete volte face on the part of Conservative Members.
Lord Crickhowell: Perhaps the Minister will answer my question. Is the distinction made on grounds measured by turnover? What constitutes premises that are primarily garages? In the example that I gave, I have not the faintest idea whether that premises is primarily a village shop or a garage. Is that clearly understood and laid down?
Secondly, then to say that Sainsbury and Tesco, which sell hundreds of millions of pounds worth of alcohol a year, will be let off the restriction but that local shops will not seems extraordinarily biased. If the Minister wants to argue, as she has, that we should not be able to buy booze because of the danger of alcohol-related accidents, driving to Tesco is just as dangerous as driving to a local shop.
Thirdly, as my noble friend Lady Buscombe said, the Bill is supposed to give power to people to reflect the circumstances of their areas. As she said, why cannot we let the local licensing authority have discretion to decide whether that suits it or not? That seems to be the way to deal with the matter, rather than this blanket ban.
We shall not take the matter further now, but the Government are being extraordinarily cavalier with both local licensing authorities and local shops, about which they have previously expressed so much concern. We shall return to the matter, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I turn to Amendment No. 438. Clause 174(1) provides for police officers or other authorised persons, such as licensing authority officers, to enter premises if they have reason to believe that a licensable activity is being, or is about to be, undertaken. That power is conferred for the purposes of investigating licensable activities.
The distinction between investigating licensable activities and the investigation of licensing offences is an academic one. There is no reason why licensing officers or authorised persons should not be given rights under Clause 175 relating to the investigation of licensing offences to match those conferred by Clause 174 relating to licensable activities. Local authorities already exercise such rights in respect of public entertainment licensing. It would be absurd not to use their resources and rely entirely on the already overstretched police.