Children Requiring Compulsory Measures of Supervision

Orders of the Day — Children (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 1st May 1995.

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Amendments made: No. 14, in page 32, line 9, leave out 'rights' and insert 'responsibilities'.
No. 15, in page 32, line 45, leave out 'control' and insert 'supervision'.
No. 16, in page 32, line 45, leave out 'in such accommodation'.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 32, line 34, at end insert— ' (ia) has misused alcohol or has in a public place consumed alcohol of a strength greater than 1 per cent. by volume.'.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 7, in page 32, line 35, leave out 'alcohol or'.

No. 8, in page 32, line 46 at end insert— '(3)' In this section, "a public place" means any location other than a private dwelling house.'.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

The amendments are intended to draw attention to alcohol abuse among young people. In Scotland—and, I suspect, further afield—it is currently illegal for shopkeepers, off-licences or anyone else to sell alcohol for consumption by those under 18, and for alcohol to be bought for a youngster. Strangely, it is not illegal for the youngster to consume that alcohol.

The current position puts great pressure on shopkeepers who attempt to establish the age of youngsters, but the main problem involves people in the community who see youngsters drinking on beaches or in town centres—it commonly happens on large housing estates—and complain to the police. They know that they must not buy alcohol for young people, and cannot understand why the police are not able to stop those young people drinking in public places. The amendments seek to make it illegal for youngsters to consume alcohol in public places, "alcohol" and "alcoholic beverage" being considered to be any drink that contains more than 1 per cent. alcohol by volume.

The advertising of alcoholic drinks is now being targeted at young people, and there are numerous containers designed to appeal to the young market. That cannot be right.

Photo of Mrs Helen Liddell Mrs Helen Liddell , Monklands East

I am very interested in this subject, which has been raised repeatedly by my constituents. Although I broadly agree with what the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) has said, I feel some anxiety about the means of redress that he seeks through the children's hearing system and supervisory orders. I think that he should exert pressure on members of his own party, including Ministers, to implement byelaws to outlaw on-street drinking. My local authority, backed by the local police, has made strenuous representations to the Secretary of State for Scotland calling for the implementation of those byelaws, and I feel that that would be a more effective method.

We must also bear in mind the tremendous cost to the health and general well-being of under-age drinkers. These proposals merely scratch the surface; other aspects of the sale of drinks and the drinks industry must be taken into account if we are to encourage a more responsible attitude, and ensure that alcohol is not sold to under-age people.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about advertising that is specifically aimed at young people. However, other products are available in my constituency and throughout north Lanarkshire, made by people who should know better. There are instances of children as young as nine consuming fortified drinks in my constituency.

I cannot support the hon. Gentleman's proposal for redress, but I think it important to draw to Ministers' attention the deep concern that is felt about this aspect of young people's lives.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

I support the amendments. That will not surprise my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), because in the past I have tried to move similar amendments. At that time, my hon. Friend the Minister gave assurances about local byelaws. He, too, will not be surprised to learn that I have been watching the position carefully; I am concerned, because I think that that may not be the way in which to deal with the problem.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say that the Government are aware that there is a problem and that byelaws may not be the most effective answer, because of the problems of having to designate certain places. That has been the difficulty in my constituency and others. I hope that my hon. Friend will tell us that the Government are considering the matter, and may well find a way of dealing with it.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

I hope that the Minister will not support amendment No. 6. I find it incredible that a serious proposal could be made that compulsory measures of supervision should apply in such cases. As my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell) said, no doubt exists that under-age drinking, especially in public places, can be a major problem. It causes a great deal of upset and even fear to other citizens going about their business, but this amendment is not the way to tackle it. I hope that the Minister is not minded to say that it is.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson , Glasgow Govan

May I add my voice to those of hon. Members calling on the Minister to make it clear what action he proposes to take on the serious problem of under-age drinking in public? Substantial discussions on another Bill have taken place in the other place about the problems caused by young people—attacks, thefts and the like. Such problems are often fuelled by alcohol that has been consumed in a public place and that has been made available to and bought for young people by adults, who are often alcoholic. In return for a percentage of the carry-out, they will provide those young people with any amount of drink, provided they have the money to buy it. I hope that the Government will deal with that problem and treat it seriously.

If the Government do not accept the solution of the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), I hope that they will promise that something will be done about the matter in the near future. Undoubtedly, people in my constituency, and I am sure other constituencies throughout Scotland, want urgent action.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I have listened carefully to hon. Members' comments, including those of the hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell) on byelaws as a possible limited way forward. I listened to the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) about drinking by young people.

Two problems exist in relation to the amendments. The first is that they embody a definition of alcoholic drink that does not accord with the definition in any other Scottish legislation. The alcohol strength is set so low that, perversely, some young people might view it as a ban to beat. Secondly, in attempting to cover public places, the proposed definition would venture into such a wide range of situations that it would be difficult to enforce. For those reasons, the amendments are unworkable.

I recognise, however, the great strength of feeling of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr. I should mention that a considerable array of statutory and common law offences can already be brought to bear, whatever the age of the drinker.

The long-term answer is a positive attitude to health and healthy life styles. The Health Education Board for Scotland works closely with education authorities, health boards and the Scottish Council on Alcohol in getting that message across to young people. We all have a part to play in ensuring that young people are aware of the consequences of alcohol misuse, that they appreciate the legal position and that they are taught the importance of a sensible approach to alcohol use.

I understand my hon. Friend's motives and the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). My concerns about the problems of under-age drinking and its effect both on drinkers and others are no less than theirs. Having said that, I understand the strength of the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr on the issue. Without commitment, because the problems that I have mentioned are real and genuine ones, I am willing to consider the matter further and to reflect on the debate. On that basis, having made his case, I hope that he will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I should like to deal with a couple of points, if that is in order. The first is that byelaws are totally ineffective. Local authorities are reluctant, for example, to act against drinking on the beach. They will not impose byelaws because many families enjoy having a picnic and a glass of wine. Byelaws are not acceptable under those circumstances. My amendment would have been much more appropriate.

Having said that, I recognise that penalties would be inappropriate. I wanted to highlight illegal drinking and to give the police some power to stop that practice on our streets. No difficulty would exist with enforcement. The proposal would be a boon to the police rather than a disadvantage.

However, having heard my hon. Friend say that he will consider the matter and take the principle on board, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 162, in page 32, line 46, at end insert— '(3) In this Part of this Act, 'supervision' in relation to compulsory measures of supervision may include measures taken for the protection, guidance, treatment or control of the child.'.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]It being Ten o'clock, further consideration of the Bill stood adjourned.

Ordered,That, at this day's sitting, the Children (Scotland) Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Dr. Liam Fox.]As amended (in the Standing Committee), again considered.