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Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am astonished that, despite all its technical ins and outs, the conclusion is not more

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positive. I again ask that the matter is given serious consideration. It has the support of some noble Lords on this side of the House and of both the other parties that have spoken. It will shortly be going to another place. I speak having been a member for many years of the Transport and General Workers' Union. The National Association of Licensed House Managers is now a part of that union. It is not the only party; the employers are also very concerned about the problem of violence in pubs.

I begin by expressing some concern that the example that was given was of an absolute discharge. I am talking about someone who is found guilty of a violent offence. That is the matter we are amending. That person ought to be excluded from a pub. I ask my noble friend to ask the department to have another look at the matter.

On the question of which Bill, we have enough Bills passing through Parliament this Session that I am sure we can find the right Bill. There is the Courts Bill and there is another one which will deal with sentencing and so on.

The opportunity should not be missed to update an inadequate position. That has been proved by more than 10 years of experience of running the present system. In withdrawing the amendment at this stage, I want to say that if nothing is done, I am afraid that this will not be the end of the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Buscombe moved Amendment No. 221:


    Before Clause 143, insert the following clause—


"ALLOWING CHILDREN INTO LICENSED PREMISES
(1) In pursuit of the licensing objective in section 4(2)(d), children under the age of 14 are only permitted to enter into licensed premises as defined in subsection (2) when accompanied by an adult over the age of 18.
(2) For the purpose of subsection (1), these licensed premises are—
(a) public houses;
(b) nightclubs; and
(c) any similar establishment whose primary purpose is the consumption of alcohol."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we now come to the issue of children—an issue on which I have felt especially strongly during the Bill's progress through the House. I said on Second Reading that I could not understand how the Government could have a stated policy to develop a family friendly culture if parents did not have to be present. I have continued to press that point and thought long and hard about how we could address that difficult area.

As the Bill stands, unaccompanied children of any age will, in principle, have totally unrestricted access to bars, clubs and pubs at any time of day or night. I have yet to meet a publican who thinks that that is a good idea or who wants to be responsible for supervising youngsters who may get into trouble in what is sometimes a very adult atmosphere. Licensees have told us that they feel compelled to make their premises as unrestricted as possible in order to remain

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competitive under the new regulations, irrespective of whether they think that a good idea in principle. That serves only to encourage an environment that puts children in danger. Many children can look older than they are and, with fake identity cards available from the Internet, it is easy for them to fool bartenders and bouncers.

The Bill lumps together supermarkets and lap-dancing clubs under the same licensing regime, with potentially disastrous results. Although it is wholly desirable for children to accompany their parents on family shopping trips, the same legislation enables them to visit a nightclub at 3 a.m. on their own, if they so wish. We have returned to this point many times, and many beyond your Lordships' House find it hard to believe.

The situation is compounded by the fact that in the same Bill, where children even attempt to buy an alcoholic beverage under the age of 18, they are guilty of a criminal offence. There is no defence under the Bill; they are guilty. Is it reasonable to make our children criminal? The Bill encourages the notion that we should allow children and young people into pubs and clubs, saying, "Come in and join this atmosphere, but if you dare to attempt to buy an alcoholic drink, you are a criminal". That cannot be right.

Amendment No. 221 is reasonable. It sets a liberal limit on the age under which children should be prohibited from entering certain premises unless accompanied by an adult. It provides that children under the age of 14 should not be allowed into pubs and clubs, unless accompanied by an adult. We have been careful to specify premises. The Bill covers premises licensed both for the sale of alcohol and for regulated entertainment—perhaps unwisely. Children should be able to enter cinemas, theatres and restaurants. We want to restrict their access when unaccompanied to premises whose primary function is the sale of alcohol—primarily, pubs and clubs.

We should remember that we are discussing extending licensing hours up to 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I am sure that the Government will say that that will not happen in many circumstances, but we believe that we must create some consistency in the Bill for the sake both of our children and of licensees and club owners and managers. Is it fair on them to have the burden of deciding whether their premises are suitable for young children?

We fully support the promotion of family friendly pubs. The amendment would not prevent that. Children would not be in any way prohibited from entering pubs with their families. We intend to guard against less salubrious licensed premises, where there is potential harm to young children who enter unaccompanied.

Let us remember the added burden on the licensee. The licensee can always state on the licence that access for under-18s is prohibited. The problem arises when we turn to the guidance. Paragraph 4.25 of the draft guidance notes makes it clear:


    "Nothing in a statement of licensing policy should limit the access of children to such premises unless it is necessary for the prevention of harm to children. No statement of policy can

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    properly anticipate every possible issue of concern that could arise in respect of children with regard to individual premises and as such, general rules should be avoided. Consideration of the individual merits of each application remains the best mechanism for judging such matters".

But any publican, club owner or manager will have to state clearly when applying for a licence why he wants to exclude children from his premises. From the Bill and the national guidance notes, it is clear that they must clearly set out reasons why they want to protect children from harm. Is that the right position in which to place a publican: that he must say, "I don't want children in my pub"—or club—"because I want to protect them from harm"? What publican in his right mind will apply for a licence saying, "I really want a premises licence but there is something a little bit wrong with my pub", or club?

The examples in the national guidance notes are clear. A statement of policy that the local authority may set out may highlight areas that give rise to concern in respect of children. For example, they may include premises where there have been convictions for serving alcohol to minors or with a reputation for under-age drinking; with a known association with drug-taking or dealing; where there is a strong element of gambling on the premises; and where entertainment of an adult or sexual nature is commonly provided. That all places a huge, unfair and unnecessary burden on licensees and club owners and managers. We question why the Government have an alcohol reduction strategy when at the same time they are saying that they want to encourage a family friendly environment and encourage our children into pubs and clubs.

I have children. I go into pubs with my children. I should not dream of allowing my children into a pub under the age of 14. The police told me that they wished that I would make the age in the amendment 18; they believe that 14 is too liberal. But at present there is a law that says that children can enter parts of a pub that do not include the bar area—for example a beer garden—unaccompanied. That is why we have set the age in the amendment at 14; we hope that we have got that right.

To us, the amendment is extremely important. We have tried both on Second Reading and in Committee to persuade the Government that a limit that would encourage consistency throughout the land with regard to children would help. I have now spoken to an enormous number of people. I spoke on 12 radio stations and two television channels this morning and no one beyond your Lordships' House can quite believe the Bill as drafted. A lady from Birmingham said:


    "That's it. The lunatics have finally taken over".

A youth worker from Birmingham said that it will cause more confusion for children. He said that there is a popular belief among young people that cannabis is now legal—we know that that is not the case, but there is confusion—and that they will think that it is legal to drink alcohol.

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Another interesting point was made to me just before I entered the Chamber. A mother rang me to say that she fears that under the Bill there will be no incentive for children to come home. It will be harder for parents to enforce curfews and children will stay out all night. Those are entirely unnecessary additional burdens and worries for parents. I beg to move.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Falkland and I have attached our names to the amendment. The Government have set out a case for allowing unaccompanied children into pubs, but it is not strong enough to include the provision in the Bill. That is why I hope that the Minister will heed the arguments advanced today. Otherwise, there will be a division of opinion on the matter.

I was especially taken by what the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said about the Bill making it a criminal offence for someone under 18 to try to buy a drink. I was thinking about the matter last night. It was and is a rite of passage for anyone under 18, but especially boys, to try to buy a drink in a pub to see whether they can get away with it. It does not seem to cause many problems at present. To deem it a criminal offence would add a layer of criminality to such activity. Young people try to sneak into certificate "18" films and to buy alcohol before they are 18. It would be unfortunate if it were made a criminal offence, especially if someone were charged with it. But I doubt that such an offence would ever be used.

The Bill creates stringent conditions on the sale of alcohol to people under 18. If under 18 year-olds are allowed as of right into pubs, many 16 or 17 year-olds might enter, making it difficult for landlords to ensure that they have stopped the sale of alcohol to everyone under 18. I remember buying a pint easily when I was 17. It happens despite the best efforts of many landlords, for whom we are creating a high hurdle. We have created conditions whereby, if a landlord believes that a customer is 18, it is all right. But, under the Bill, many under 18 year-olds will believe that they have a right to be in a pub.

My local landlord at the Albert in Primrose Hill in London told me a story that is extremely pertinent to the situation. One afternoon, he asked some 15 year-olds who had entered his pub and were making a noise to leave. When they said that they were only drinking Coca-Cola, he told them that they must leave because they were unaccompanied. The 15 year-olds complained to their headmaster, who complained to the publican that he had broken the law because people aged over 14 were allowed into a pub unaccompanied. The headmaster wrote to the brewery, which replied that the publican would donate to the charity that the children had been supporting in a sponsored walk that day.

It is an interesting situation. The Bill will give people the impression that they are allowed into a pub as of right. I asked the Minister about the matter several times, and he told me twice that people were allowed

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into a pub only at the discretion of the publican. But we are heaping many responsibilities on landlords and giving the public the impression that young people will have a right to enter pubs. It is easy to say in this House, where we all understand the definition, that the situation would be easily understood by most publicans. But, when I mentioned to the publican of the Albert that he had a right to refuse entry to anybody, he agreed but did not feel that he could have argued the point in that situation.

We have an issue: many young people will go to pubs. Pubs attract people. One of the arguments for allowing young people into pubs was that they might be safer there than they would be outside on the street. It is a strange argument. Children might be safer in some pubs—the good ones that we have all drunk in. However, if it is not safe outside—as in some areas in Newcastle that I know well—the pubs will not be safe either. In one particular case, the police had to close down a pub in Walker where two handguns and a large quantity of drugs were found. Those are extreme examples. In 99 per cent of cases, it might be perfectly acceptable for children to enter pubs.

We also talk about the need for pubs to be family-friendly. However, by making pubs family-friendly we assume that the whole family will enter them as opposed to unaccompanied children. If that is the case, I see no difficulty with the amendment, which, ultimately, is extremely sensible.

I have no difficulty with the Government's concept of trying to liberalise the system. However, we are not liberalising the system; we are building into it problems that will have to be sorted out by the good sense of publicans. Although I have every respect for the good sense of publicans, this would be an unnecessary addition to the Bill.


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