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The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 434 to 436 relate to Clause 173, which prohibits the sale of alcohol at service areas, garages, and so forth. I have no problem with the prohibition of alcohol sales at motorway service
Local shopping facilities are under pressure. All political parties accept that, agree with it and believe that that is a shame. The village shop is under pressure from the local supermarket. The local post office is under pressure because of the ending of benefit payments through post offices. The petrol station is under pressure because of the pitiful margins on the sale of petrol, and the garage is under pressure because modern technology means that new units are replaced rather than repaired. The decline of all that has led to what is called by the Social Exclusion Unit "shopping deserts".
In order to survive, as many as possible of such functions need to be combined together to provide an economic unit, which would include the ability to sell alcohol. It is because of that that many forecourt stores have emerged in the past 10 years.
What can be the argument against allowing garages with shops attached to sell alcohol? There can be really only one; that is, that it increases the likelihood of drinking and driving. However, that is so marginal as to be irrelevant. If we consider the reality, who goes to a garage to buy a bottle of alcohol and then sits in his or her car and drinks it? What happens is that they might go home, in which case they can do what they like, or they might go on to a party. If they become inebriated at a party, they would probably do so whether or not they bought a bottle at their local garage. Furthermore, practically, there has been no evidence of an increase in this problem since the law permitted a wider range of alcohol sales in forecourt stores in the 1990s.
There are two further aspects to which I should like to draw the attention of the Committee. What is the logic of enabling an off licence to be set up in a village street 25 yards away from the village garage? As far as I can see, that could happen under these proposals. The result will be that one will have two shopping units in the village and probably both will be forced to close because they are uneconomic.
Even worse is the position of the local supermarket. In one's local newspaper, Tesco, Sainsbury's or Safeway will often advertise petrol as a loss-leader as a reason to shop with them. We now have a situation where one can go to Tesco and fill up one's car tank with petrol and its boot with booze but one cannot buy a six-pack of beer in one's local garage shop and thereby support the continuation of a shop in one's village or locality. Where is the fairness in that? It is one law for the big boys and another for the small ones.
We have already dealt a blow to local garages. As the noble Baroness kindly confirmed to me in writing, if they have so much as a microwave or offer a hot cup of coffee after 11 p.m. they will need a licence. That blow has increased the regulations they will face as a result of the Bill. The Labour Party has shed crocodile
Baroness Buscombe: I support the amendments of my noble friend, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. This subject caused a considerable amount of debate among colleagues. Some felt quite strongly that the exemptions were right and others felt that my noble friend's amendments were right. It was interesting that the more we asked people whether alcohol is sold in garage forecourts, the more we realised that most people think it is already. Can the Minister tell us whether there are pertinent examples to exempt the selling of alcohol in garage forecourt stores? Some of my noble friend's illustrations emphasise why in practice it does not make sense to have this exemption for licensed premises.
The effect of the amendments is to allow the sale by retail or the supply of alcohol from premises used primarily as a garage or which form part of such premises without a premises licence. I emphasise those last few words. The amendment would not permit the sale of alcohol from garages without a premises licence. A licensing authority would still have to decide whether to grant a premises licence in respect of those garages.
We believe that the decision whether to grant a premises licence for a garage, thereby permitting the sale of alcohol, should be left to the relevant licensing authority, rather than this absolute prohibition in the Bill. There may be circumstances where it is acceptable that alcohol could be sold from a garage, to which my noble friend has already referred, particularlywe stress "particularly"in rural areas.
We appreciate that it would rarely be acceptable for alcohol to be sold from a garage. The obvious reason is the assumption that people will get drunk while driving. But surely a licensing authority is best placed to consider the individual circumstances of each case. A blanket ban imposed by Parliament would have an unwarranted effect on garages where it is appropriate that a premises licence should be granted.
Lord Monson: The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, has made out an overwhelming case for the amendment. However, if the Government resistas I fear they mightperhaps I may suggest a compromise. My compromise will not go as far as the Minister, or I for that matter, would like but it would be better than nothing. In doing so, I shall revert to a point I made at Second Reading. As the Minister is, I am sure, aware, Scandinavian governments are traditionally very strict about alcohol sales to the point of being positively puritanical. They have relaxed a little in recent years, but nevertheless their rules and regulations are still much stricter than those in this country.
However, a certain type of alcohol, known as light beer and light cider, which contains less than 2.2 per cent by volume, is treated much more benignly and can be sold at many outlets where sales of stronger beers, wines and spirits would be totally forbidden. There is a logical reason for that, which is that this beer is so weak that it is almost impossible to get drunk on it. In a nutshell, the more one drinks the quicker one excretes it.
Clause 186 provides that drinks containing less than 0.5 per cent alcohol can be sold anywhere. Not many people find that particularly appealing. Although the 2.2 per cent beer is not as pleasant to drink as the 3.5 per cent or above, it is still better than nothing. Many people greatly dislikefor example, if they want to have a picnicsweet fizzy drinks that are full of artificial flavouring and colouring and so on.
Lord Redesdale: I support the amendment. I speak to the issue raised in Amendment No. 436, which seeks to leave out subsection (c)(i), which is the retailing of petrol. The noble Lord made the point that local shops and garages are under pressure. I know that for a fact because I used to own a petrol station, which unfortunately went out of business last year because petrol margins were so short and we were making more out of the shop sales. It might have helped if the shop had sold alcohol.
I am not convinced by the argument that sales of alcohol on forecourts would lead to drink driving because anyone in a car can drive to an off-licence. However, one issue I wish to raise is that there seems to be a slight dichotomy in the Bill, which is that one reason many local garages are going out of business is that most people in rural areas shop in superstores. They will drive 30 to 40 miles to go to a superstore and at the same time fill up with much cheaper petrol. I know this is the case throughout the country.
Can the Minister give an indication whether any of the big superstores, such as Tesco or Sainsbury's, will be affected by subsection (c)(i)the retailing of petrolbecause most superstores have a garage attached to them? At what point do those garages come under that provision? It seems unfortunate that
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