Licensing Bill [HL]
Lord Williamson of Horton (Crossbench)
My Lords, I make my customary declaration of interest as a non-executive director of Whitbread. I support the amendment. The difficult question of unaccompanied children has always been on the agenda since consideration of the Bill began. The public would regard the Bill as creating a strange situation if it were not amended. Obviously, we are confronting differences of view. On the one hand, I welcome a liberalising Bill that could improve the convenience and amenity offered by the hospitality trade through licensed premises. But, like many Members, I am concerned about unaccompanied children.
We must ask ourselves whether we are satisfied that it would be good if a publican admitted to his pub a 13 year-old girl, for example, who could then sit by the bar sipping Coca-Cola for four or five hours. The Bill would make it perfectly legal. Would that be a good situation? I do not think so. That is why it would be advantageous to have clarity as proposed by the amendment. The amendment is clear about the age at which children can enter licensed premises unaccompanied and where they must be accompanied. It would be good for social policy and for publicans and owners of premises, who would know where they stood.
We all know that it is an offence to sell alcohol to an individual aged under 18. But that is not the question here. The question is: what would happen if unaccompanied children were given total access to a bar, whatever they were drinking? I am not in favour of such an element of freedom. It is a dangerous freedom to grant some children.
I support the amendment, but, if it is accepted, it might be useful to clarify the exact meaning of "public house". There is now a large variety of public houses, including pub-restaurants, some of which have a children's facility attached, which is now a common feature that is highly desirable. That is a secondary point. For the moment, I support the amendment as presented.