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Lord Redesdale: My question on the amendment relates to the fact that at present the licensee determines who should enter licensed premises. I believe that it will be for the licensee to control the actions of children. I doubt that many licensees will allow entry to unaccompanied children late at night. Will the licensee be permitted to include an age restriction, as some pubs do, up to the age of 21 in certain instances? Will that be affected by the legislation?
Viscount Falkland: I agree with my noble friend's remarks, which are addressed specifically, I believe, to licensed premises in the form of pubs. He is right to imply that licensees have long experience of dealing with aspects of under-age drinkers seeking access to pubs. However, the Bill goes wider. It creates licensed premises with all manner of opening hours and all manner of activities, entertainment and so on.
The aim of the Bill appears simple. The noble Baroness has said that it is a simple transfer of powers from the magistrates to local authorities. On the other hand, local authorities will now have to interpret matters to which attention has rightly been drawnthe dangers of over-legislating or under-legislating in regard to young people in a varied number of locations and activities.
The opaqueness of the Bill precludes a sensible debate, particularly as the guidance is in draft form only. We do not know what the Government will recommend to local authorities on this matter. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, has been assiduous in teasing out of the Government some clarityI believe she used that expression with which I agree. I am sure that she would be the first to agree with me that we have not had much clarity so far. This is one example of where we need clarity. Apart from some of the licensing objectives to which I referred in relation
Lord Avebury: We are confronted with a difficulty faced time and time again on this Bill. We do not have the faintest idea what will be in the guidance. The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, pointed out two areas where we need to know the Government's intentions as regards the protection of children from harm. She said that licences could be awarded in such a manner as to restrict the hours when children can be present or they may be awarded to exclude children altogether. Until we see the guidance we have no idea what the powers of local authorities will be in those two areas.
This is of extreme importance when one considers the phenomenon of young people drinking in our town centres and in many provincial cities up and down the United Kingdom. As I said on a previous occasion, it is difficult for licensees to distinguish between young people when those under 18 dress to look like someone over that age.
There are two questions. First, will local authorities be able to impose that kind of restriction at their own discretion, if they know that establishments are likely to attract people under 18? Secondly, how can one enforce such restrictions once the local authorities have decided upon them? We need much more information on those matters before we can allow this part of the Bill to proceed.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: There are many grey areas in regard to children drinking alcohol. This appears to be an opportunity to clarify matters. If licensees have to control children, would it help if children had identification cards? Some publicans run voluntary schemes.
Lord Davies of Oldham: We have already referred to this enormously important aspect of the Bill: the protection of children from harm. It is a key element of the Bill. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that at a previous meeting we had a fairly full debate about the issue of identity cards and the limitations of any form of card in solving certain aspects of under-age drinking.
On the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, it would be permissible for a licensee to restrict entry by age 18, 21 or even 25 if he or she wished. That will be his or her decision. As has been reflected in the debate, licensees of establishments where alcohol is sold have considerable discretion because they have a very responsible role in terms of the nature of the establishments they run. Other licensees in other areas have similar responsibilities.
We fully recognise this important aspect of the Bill rightly identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe. However, it is important that the Committee should recognise the starting point of discussion on this matter. Under current law, and at the discretion of the individual
Children's certificates were introduced by the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 to permit, with the approval of the licensing justices, the supervised presence of children of any age in bar areas until 9 p.m. Relatively few certificates have ever been issued. By 2001, only 5,000 out of 110,000 licensed premises obtained those certificates.
The Committee will recognise that licensees will not increase their trade or please their patrons by giving unrestricted access to children over the age of 14, still less to children younger than that. At present at the discretion of the licensee unsupervised children of any age may enter and remain in licensed premises so long as they do not enter the bar area. So they can be in dining rooms, family rooms, pub gardens and other places away from the bar area.
In addition, most restaurants serving alcohol do not have a bar at which customers may be served directly. Alcohol is purchased at the table with a meal from a waiter. In those circumstances, children of any age may enter and remain without supervision. That is our current position. It is therefore not a massive step to say, as the Bill provides, that children should normally be given freedom to enter licensed premises at the discretion of the licensee unless there is a reason to exclude them. Society already relies a good deal on the common sense of the licensee, and the figures which I quoted earlier show the nature of that common sense with regard to applications regarding more extended use of the premises by children.
I have no doubt that Amendments Nos. 86 and 112 have at their heartthe noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, expressed this graphically in her introductionthe desire to preserve the principles implicit in the Bill; that children should be admitted to licensed premises unless there is a good reason to exclude or to restrict their entry by requiring that they be accompanied by an adult. That is exactly the Government's position. We are at one on that aspect. Therefore, the issue is how to achieve a common objective.
The amendments reflect the concern that nothing in the guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State or in the statement of policies made by licensing authorities should undermine that approach. In that respect I am sure that the amendments give voice to the anxieties of many within the industry. Like the industry, we want to see licensed premises develop in a way that will be good for families and good for tourists visiting our country. We have matched that approach with clear rules that prevent consumption of alcohol by children on such premises under any circumstances except one. The exception would allow 16 and 17 year-olds to consume beer, wine or cider with a meal when accompanied by an adult.
I give the Committee the assurance that the Secretary of State's guidance will reflect our desire to see much freer access for children to premises. It will also focus on the needrightly expressed on all sides of the Committeefor vigilance in ensuring that exclusions and restrictions are put in place wherever they are needed. Children of course should not be in premises which provide entertainment of a sexual nature, or in premises where gambling is the main activity; nor should they be in premises where they would be at risk of being drawn into drugs culture.
However, I do not pretend that the guidance can comprehensively cover every eventuality. That is not realistic. That is why local discretion and knowledge will be very important and why this system is based upon local decision-making. The guidance can establish a clear approach to assist the licensing authorities, but at the end of the day the decision will be that of the local licensing authorities. The guidance will also impact on every statement of licensing policy. It will therefore reflect the position that I have described.
The Committee will also note that, under subsection (3) of Clause 5, licensing authorities must consult holders of premises and personal licensees in their areas before making their statements of licensing policy. Licensees will therefore also have a say in what the policy should contain. But, so will the police and, for example, also teachers living locally if they are concerned about this matter.
Amendment No. 419 seeks to restrict the entry of children aged under 14 years to all licensed premises unless supervised by an adultnot any adult, but one aged over 18 years. In other words, at least a 19 year-old. That position would be much more restrictive than existing arrangements.
The term "licensed premises" is defined in Clause 188 of the Bill. It means any premises in respect of which a premises licence issued under Part 3 of the Bill is in force. It therefore potentially includes public houses, night-clubs, theatres, night cafes, cinemas, concert halls, restaurants, shops, stores, supermarkets and hotels. I should be surprised if the noble Earl really wants to deny access to all those places for unsupervised children aged under 14. I presume that the main concern is with places selling alcohol for consumption on those premises.
However, that is not included in the amendment; nor is there a new offence and penalty within the new amendment. I hope that the noble Earl will accept our assurances that the Bill has in place arrangements that can exclude or restrict children's entry whenever it is judged necessary to protect them from harm.