New Clause 5 — Sale of alcohol: community events etc and ancillary business sales

Deregulation Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 1:27 pm on 14th May 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

‘(1) In section 2 of the Licensing Act 2003 (authorisation for licensable activities etc), after subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) The licensable activity of selling alcohol by retail may be carried on if each sale is a permitted sale by virtue of Part 5A.”

(2) After Part 5 of that Act, insert the Part set out in Schedule (Part to be inserted as Part 5A of the Licensing Act 2003) to this Act.

(3) In section 136 of that Act (unauthorised licensable activities), at the end of subsection (5) insert—

“In addition, for the purposes of this Part the licensable activity of selling alcohol by retail is under and in accordance with an authorisation if each sale is a permitted sale by virtue of Part 5A.”

(4) In section 140 of that Act (allowing disorderly conduct on licensed premises etc)—

(a) omit the “and” before subsection (2)(d);

(b) after that paragraph insert “, and

(e) in the case of premises specified in a Part 5A notice, to the person who gave the notice.”

(5) In section 141 of that Act (sale of alcohol to a person who is drunk)—

(a) omit the “and” before subsection (2)(d);

(b) after that paragraph insert “, and

(e) in the case of premises specified in a Part 5A notice, to the person who gave the notice.”;

(c) in subsection (3), after “This section” insert “(except subsection (2)(e))”.

(6) In section 143 of that Act (failure to leave licensed premises etc)—

(a) omit the “and” before subsection (2)(d);

(b) after that paragraph insert “, and

(e) in the case of premises specified in a Part 5A notice, to the person who gave the notice.”

(7) In section 144 of that Act (keeping of smuggled goods)—

(a) omit the “and” before subsection (2)(d);

(b) after that paragraph insert “, and

(e) in the case of premises specified in a Part 5A notice, to the person who gave the notice.”

(8) In section 147A of that Act (persistently selling alcohol to children)—

(a) in subsection (1)(b), for the words from “either” to “Part 5” substitute “licensed premises, premises authorised to be used for a permitted temporary activity by virtue of Part 5 or premises specified in a Part 5A notice”;

(b) in subsection (4), after paragraph (b) insert “or

(c) the person or one of the persons who gave a Part 5A notice in respect of the premises.”

(9) In section 153 of that Act (prohibition of unsupervised sales by children)—

(a) omit the “and” before subsection (4)(c);

(b) after that paragraph insert “, and

(d) in relation to a sale by retail that is a permitted sale by virtue of Part 5A—

(i) the person who gave the Part 5A notice, or

(ii) any individual aged 18 or over who is authorised for the purposes of this section by that person.”

(10) In section 159 of that Act (interpretation of Part 7), at the end of the definition of “relevant premises” insert “, or

(a) except in sections 145 and 152, premises that (by reason of being specified in a Part 5A notice) are premises on which a sale by retail of alcohol is capable of being a permitted sale by virtue of Part 5A;”.

(11) In section 194 of that Act (index of defined expressions) insert the following entries at the appropriate places—

“Part 5A notice section 110A(2)”
“relevant licensing authority, in Part 5A section 110N”
“relevant person, in Part 5A section 110D(11)”.

(12) In section 197 of that Act (regulations and orders)—

(a) in subsection (3) (which lists exceptions to the use of the negative procedure), after paragraph (c) insert—

“(cza) regulations under section 110B(2), (3) or (7) or 110C(2), (3), (5) or (6) (regulations relating to sales of alcohol permitted by virtue of Part 5A),”;

(b) in subsection (4) (which specifies when the affirmative procedure is required)—

(i) after “or (g)” insert “or regulations within subsection (3)(cza)”;

(ii) after “the order” insert “or regulations”.’. —(Norman Baker.)

This amendment, together with amendment NS1, inserts new Part 5A into the Licensing Act 2003 (with consequential provision to other Parts of that Act) to introduce a new procedure for authorising the sale of alcohol where the sale is ancillary to a community event or to the provision of other goods or services by a business.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

The effect of the new clause is to create a new light-touch form of authorisation for community groups or certain businesses, such as bed-and-breakfast accommodation providers, to sell small amounts of alcohol under the Licensing Act 2003—the new part 5A notice.

It may be helpful to the House if I first give some background and explain the problem that we are trying to solve with the new measure. Last year the Government carried out an extensive public consultation on various proposals in its alcohol strategy. This of course included our efforts to tackle alcohol harms. On that front we have already achieved much. For example, we have reformed the Licensing Act 2003 and introduced new tools and powers to make it easier for local police and licensing authorities to close down problem premises and crack down on alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder.

At the same time, the Government’s public consultation last year recognised that sometimes regulation can be excessive, even needless. No one wants to stop a responsible drinker enjoying a drink responsibly. The Government’s approach is all about balance. We want to free up the police and local enforcement agencies to tackle alcohol harms while giving them greater discretion to manage low-risk alcohol sales. The Government has also made it clear that it wants to cut red tape and pointless regulations, but I stress that that must not be at the expense of necessary safeguards against alcohol harms. This new measure is about striking that balance.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

The Minister talks about alcohol harms, about which we are all concerned, but would not the new clause increase the consumption of alcohol rather than reduce it?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

I do not think that it will increase the consumption of alcohol; rather it will reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, and do so in a way that means that alcohol is consumed in low quantities and safely, as I will set out.

Our public consultation last year recognised that the existing alcohol licensing regime is a touch bureaucratic in some respects. For some small voluntary groups and bed-and-breakfast establishments, for example, the existing premises licences and temporary event notices regimes are pointlessly costly and burdensome. The restrictions and scrutiny are disproportionate for their low-level, low-risk needs. The first of these are the community groups with local membership, including charities and not-for-profit organisations, which carry out activities in local areas and wish to sell small amounts of alcohol at small-scale events throughout the year. I should confirm that alcohol provided as part of a ticket price or in return for a donation is usually defined in law as a sale.

We are thinking here of local groups, such as the women’s institutes or local residents’ groups, or the church choir that wants to offer a glass of wine to audience members in the interval, and other groups who hold occasional events, for example, lunches and plays at which they wish to provide very small amounts of alcohol to attendees. Such groups often operate from different venues in their local communities. Groups such as the women’s institutes, thriving church organisations and other local charities are not just about “Jam and Jerusalem”; sometimes they might also be about a glass of warm beer or chilled chardonnay. But refreshments aside, their wider activities are part of the fabric and lifeblood of thriving local communities, which I hope all in this House support. No one wants to tie them down with unnecessary bureaucracy if we can help it.

The existing options for an alcohol licence are often unsuitable in such cases. The cost of obtaining a single premises licence is between £100 and £1,900 a year, with an additional associated cost of obtaining a personal licence of approximately £75. Temporary event notices must be given each time and only a limited number—12 at the moment—can be allowed each year for the same premises to ensure appropriate safeguards against crime and disorder and public nuisance because they provide for larger scale, higher risk events.

The other group we looked at was small businesses that want to sell small amounts of alcohol in a similar low-risk environment as part of a wider service. We specifically have in mind providers of bed and breakfast or other similar overnight accommodation who may wish to offer a glass of wine or a beer to welcome their guests at the end of a long day’s travel or with an evening meal. Even if not charged for directly, this alcohol is in law a sale. The burden of a premises licence in such cases seems to many, including me, to be excessive.

We did consider options such as directly exempting such activity from the licensing process and consulted on other ideas such as greater local discretion on temporary event notices. However, the coalition Government is committed to tackling the harms that alcohol can cause, as I mentioned a moment ago, and recognises the need for important safeguards to guard against those harms and the risk of loopholes. We believed that creating a new tailor-made authorisation was the best option.

In the response to the public consultation on alcohol, we announced our intention to create a new authorisation called the community and ancillary sellers notice. This will be a cheaper, simpler and easier alternative to other types of authorisation, such as a premises licence or using multiple temporary event notices. Since that announcement, we have been working with colleagues across Government to develop the proposal. It has been designed to remove unnecessary licensing burdens and costs for community groups, and for some small businesses in the licensing process, so it is right that it should be part of the Deregulation Bill.

As the Minister with responsibility for the alcohol licensing regime and for measures to enable local areas to tackle alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder effectively, I have been keen to ensure that we have in place the necessary safeguards against harm. Deregulation must not be at the expense of undermining public safety or public health. That is why, although the Government looked seriously at whether it could help groups such as hairdressers and florists with this measure, it has decided that it should not, and so will not. Under the new community and ancillary sellers notice, as the schedule sets out, eligible groups or individuals will be able to sell small amounts of alcohol between 7 am and 11 pm in limited, low-risk circumstances during the period of 36 months.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee 1:45 pm, 14th May 2014

I welcome this sensible deregulatory move. The Minister keeps referring to small amounts of alcohol. Will he define what that refers to?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

I am happy to help my hon. Friend. We are today looking at the principle of the establishment of the scheme, and it is perfectly proper that the detail of that should be subject to consultation, with Members of the House, the Local Government Association and others, and we will not take a firm view on that until the consultation has taken place.

Photo of Toby Perkins Toby Perkins Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I should be grateful if the Minister updates the House when he gets that. My wife and I have often disagreed on what a small amount of alcohol is. I would be grateful if, on behalf of husbands around the country, I could make her aware of the legal definition of that.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

I hesitate to intervene in the Perkins’ household as to what a small amount of alcohol might be. This is a proper matter for consultation. We need to take into account, for example, whether any alcohol consumed could in theory lead to disorder. We would not want that to occur under this regime. We also want to ensure that we do not encourage drink-driving, and so on. Those are the considerations that we will take into account, but we genuinely want to hear from those who respond to the consultation process what they regard as a small amount. It is the principle that we are concerned with today.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

I am terribly enthusiastic about the Minister’s general all-party, cross-party approach to getting rid of unnecessary regulation. I absolutely agree with him, but I have just come from a meeting of crowdfunders, who are really hurt by the fact that a Government who believe in deregulation have just introduced the regulation of crowdfunding through the Financial Conduct Authority, which is doing great harm to a growing industry.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

That is a bit off my beat, if I may say so. Obviously, the Government believes in regulation where it is appropriate, but it also believes in removing regulation where it is not appropriate, and that is a balance that it tries to strike in what it does.

Getting an authorisation under the new community and ancillary sellers notice will be simple and straightforward for eligible users and for the local licensing authorities. Users will fill out a simple form and send it to the council to notify it of their intentions to provide alcohol under the new notice. The fee, which we want to keep as low as possible, will accompany the notice. Under the provisions, business users or ancillary sellers will need to specify a single premises from which they will be making alcohol sales, and community groups will be able to name up to three premises at which they will be holding events under the notice.

Licensing authorities will be able to reject a notice where it is appropriate on grounds of preventing crime and disorder, preventing public nuisance, promoting public safety, or protecting children from harm.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I am interested in what the Minister has to say. Did the drinks industry contribute to the consultation, and was it enthusiastic about or resistant to the new clause?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

The drinks industry responded to the alcohol strategy. It would be astonishing if it had not done so. Obviously, its comments were taken into account, but so were the comments of others who were concerned, for example, about alcohol harms. As I mentioned a moment ago, we tried to strike the correct balance, ensuring that we do not encourage alcohol harm, while removing unnecessary bureaucracy where its removal has no adverse impact.

With regard to the notices, it is also worth pointing out that the local police and environmental health authority will also have a say. If they have concerns, they can say so before such a notice is given, and once an authorisation has been agreed, the notice may be revoked by a similar light-touch process.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

How will the law be tightened for holders of licences who sell alcohol to those who are under age, particularly for those who are persistent offenders?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

Let me be clear that this is not an attempt to change the law relating to under-age alcohol sales. The requirements for alcohol sales that apply at present will apply in future. As I mentioned a moment ago, if we find that local police object and that individuals are taking advantage of the process in order to sell alcohol to those who are not entitled to it, obviously that will lead to the licence being revoked, and possibly to criminal action if the police and Crown Prosecution Service so determine.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

Was there consultation with representatives of those who work in accident and emergency departments on Fridays and Saturdays and who have to put up with people who are seriously inebriated, and often injured, causing terrible problems for the staff?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

There was certainly an open consultation on the alcohol strategy generally. I am well aware of the link between alcohol and violence, as both matters are within my portfolio at the Home Office, but I must stress that this proposal is about very low levels of alcohol being consumed in controlled events and in certain circumstances involving, for example, church choirs and bed-and-breakfast establishments. That is a far cry from the problems we sometimes see on our streets on a Friday or Saturday night. I want to stress that alcohol harm and disorder would in no way be accelerated by this process; quite the reverse. We are simply taking a non-threatening, problem-free alcohol environment and simplifying the bureaucracy that surrounds it. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about these matters, but let me assure him that we take alcohol harm very seriously indeed.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield

On that point—and it is a serious one, as those of us who have campaigned on the wrongful use of alcohol know—there used to be different laws for those who charge for alcohol and those who give it away for free, for example as an act of hospitality in commercial premises. Will that continue, or will it end under this scheme?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

As I mentioned a moment ago, if a bed-and-breakfast establishment offers alcohol to guests when they arrive, that is deemed to be a sale, even if an indirect one, because essentially it is included in the overall price of the overnight accommodation. That is how it is regarded in this legislation.

The provisions allow for other safeguards. Users of the new notice will be responsible persons for the purposes of criminal offences in the Licensing Act 2003, such as the selling of alcohol to children. That relates to the point made by Jim Shannon. As with other authorisations under the 2003 Act, the provisions in the Bill will be underpinned by more detailed regulation, on which the Government will consult.

We also intend such regulations to cover the amount of alcohol that can be sold. That relates to the point made by my hon. Friend James Duddridge. We intend that a limit on the amount of alcohol that can be given to an adult within 24 hours will generally apply, or an average of that amount for adults attending a community event. Precise limits will be subject to consultation. We want the system to operate in a light-touch, practical way. Details, such as the level of the fee, the qualifying criteria—the types of community groups and the size of businesses, for example—and what discretion licensing authorities will have, will all be matters for regulation, most of which will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, thereby giving Members full opportunity to take part in discussions and decisions. We are looking forward to working with key partners on the detail of the measure and are consulting publicly on this.

This is a radical new licensing authorisation that will help to achieve the Government’s aims of helping community groups and particular small businesses while at the same time maintaining important public health and public safety safeguards. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

The Minister was not with us in Committee and so might not be aware that we had many discussions on how best to characterise the Bill. Was it a rag-bag, a hodge-podge or the Christmas tree Bill to end all Christmas tree Bills? An hon. Friend of mine asserts that although it began as a Christmas tree Bill, it has grown and grown to the point that it now bears a closer resemblance to the Blackpool illuminations. New clause 5 is one such example.

However, given the nature of new clause 5, perhaps a cocktail Bill is a better metaphor. Perhaps it is a particularly strong Cosmopolitan—one that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Or perhaps it is an Old Etonian, which I understand is a mix of gin, bitters and crème de noyaux—guaranteed to leave one with a crashing headache the morning after. That is because the Bill still contains nothing to tackle the cost of living crisis gripping this country, it is still focused more on removing burdens from Ministers and officials than on helping the people and businesses of this country, and it still contains grave attacks on workers’ rights and health.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

I was with the hon. Lady not only in Committee but at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage, when I think a broader view was taken. If she does not think that the Bill contains the right deregulatory measures, what would the Opposition bring forward to help solve some of the real problems she is discussing?

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As I am sure he is aware, when we heard evidence in Committee we discussed some other options for deregulation. I do not intend to set out our deregulatory programme now—I am sure that you would not consider that to be in order, Mr Deputy Speaker—but I feel that the Opposition have the right, and indeed the duty, to comment on the fact that the entire contribution the Bill will make in savings is estimated to be £10 million over 10 years. I do not think that anyone on either side of the House would consider that to be a radical benefit.

New clause 5 and new schedule 1 insert a new part in the Licensing Act 2003 to introduce a new procedure for authorising the sale of alcohol where that sale is part of a community event, as we have heard. The Opposition absolutely believe that it is right to remove unnecessary regulatory and legislative burdens from individuals, civil society, business and public sector organisations, including the Women’s Institute and other organisations to which the Minister referred.

Although we do not oppose the proposal, we have some concerns about which we are seeking assurances from the Minister. In Committee we discussed temporary event notices, the sale of chocolate liqueurs and other minor changes to licensing. Indeed, when we had a short debate on what constitutes a low level of alcohol consumption, I had a flashback to our debate on how many Mars bars’ worth of liqueurs it would take to intoxicate a child. At no stage did the Minister present at the time indicate that the Government were considering introducing what I think—I am sure the Minister will agree—is a large change to a complex licensing regime at this stage.

Introducing changes in that manner has become something of a hallmark of this Government. However, I understand that the Bill was written in draft about a year ago and that long before that Ministers were looking for proposals to put in it, so will the Minister explain why this proposal has been tabled at the last minute? The result is that interested parties have not had the opportunity to scrutinise it. Why the rush? The regime has been in place for 11 years, and although we support the aims of the amendment, we do not feel that the manner of its introduction is warranted. It is not the way to make changes to a complex licensing regime.

Will the Minister assure the House that any secondary regulations that are brought forward as a consequence of these changes will not be introduced in that way? Will he tell the House what consultation was undertaken with licensing authorities, in particular, and whether they support the change? How much time, if any, were they given to respond to it? I note that the Minister spoke of consultation following the consultation on the alcohol strategy, but the Local Government Association was certainly surprised by the inclusion of these proposals in this manner.

In Committee, my hon. Friend Toby Perkins criticised the Government’s overall approach to alcohol. The Minister thought he was criticising the Government’s alcohol strategy, but, as my hon. Friend pointed out, it is very difficult to discern an alcohol strategy to criticise. It is hard to criticise what does not exist, though it is right to criticise the fact that it does not exist. What kind of strategy introduces changes in this piecemeal manner? There is a document on the Government’s website entitled “Alcohol Strategy”, yet it is anything but a strategy. These seemingly random changes, introduced with very little notice, do not give Labour Members or stakeholders outside the House any confidence that Ministers are working hard towards any kind of specific objective or plan.

As my hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins pointed out, there are concerns to be raised about this proposal. We support its aims, but it is hard to judge the likely effects it will have when introduced in a such a disjointed and seemingly impulsive manner. As the LGA said in its briefing, which I am sure the Minister has read:

“Introducing this clause as a standalone item means that it cannot be considered in the context of a potential public health licensing objective, which the LGA strongly believes should be brought forward, and which the Government has said it is still considering. The proposed clause could be said to increase the availability and accessibility of alcohol, contributing to the high levels of alcohol-related health harm that exist.”

If this were part of an overall strategy, we would be able to see how the Government addressed those criticisms. The LGA has also proposed a complete review of licensing. Has the Minister thought about commissioning such a review so that any further changes might be considered in terms of their effect on the wider regime?

Another concern we have, to which the Minister alluded briefly, is the potential cost of this change to local authorities. There is a prescribed fee, but it is not clear whether it will cover the cost to licensing authorities. He spoke of further consultation. Will he give more details on whom he will consult and what will be the remit of the consultation? I am sure he is aware that at present alcohol licensing is a net cost to local authorities of approximately £17 million a year. This is clearly a disincentive to refuse applications, as that may result in costly appeals, or to initiate enforcement action, especially when local authorities are struggling with the Government’s programme of cuts. It is important that the Minister does not load another cost burden on to them. I would therefore appreciate his clarifying the point about cost recovery.

The Minister confirmed that this licence is in addition to temporary event notices. Will he clarify the limit on the total number of days in a calendar year when events can be held under TENs? In Committee, he said that it would be 21 days. Does this proposal affect that in any way?

The Government’s alcohol policy is in complete chaos. Minimum unit pricing was promised, then ditched; we had another U-turn on multi-buy discounts; antisocial behaviour powers have been watered down; the sobriety schemes have seemingly been abandoned; reform of licensing never materialised; and the late-night levy looks set to raise less than 5% of what was promised. The Government blocked Labour’s proposals to make public health a licensing condition when the Bill that became the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 was discussed. The alcohol strategy, such that it is, includes a commitment to look at public health in cumulative assessments that councils undertake, but this does not seem to have been taken forward either. The Government have done nothing on alcohol education or alcohol advertising to kids. The Prime Minister promised

“a real effort to get to grips with the root cause” of alcohol problems, with a strategy that attacked alcohol harms from “every angle”. The Minister spoke of looking to achieve a balance. Will he give greater clarity on the context in which this measure contributes to that balance?

I see no evidence of any kind of strategy on alcohol whatsoever. This is just another random licensing measure thrown into this Bill at the last minute without proper consultation, as we have heard from the interested parties. I urge the Minister and his colleagues to work with licensing authorities on the secondary regulations and to reassure the House that councils will not be harmed or hammered by the fees involved. In expectation of those assurances, we will not oppose these measures.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 2:00 pm, 14th May 2014

I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity when he says that he is concerned about alcohol harm, but I cannot see that as being consistent with this clause, which liberalises alcohol sales and use. It is a deregulatory measure, not a regulatory measure. I am a regulator rather than a deregulator. I believe profoundly in the nanny state where it is going to protect lives, particularly the lives of young people and vulnerable people, as in the case of alcohol.

Britain has a very serious alcohol problem, with appallingly high levels of binge drinking reported only this week, when we were compared very unfavourably with many other countries. We are simply not taking the alcohol problem seriously. It is all very well to say, “Have a drink when you arrive at your bed and breakfast—a little tincture to warm you up for the evening and get you started before you have your bottle of wine with dinner later on”, but it encourages a more relaxed culture of alcohol consumption when we should instead be raising concerns about it. Alcohol liver damage has increased massively in recent years. We have seen rising numbers of deaths from cirrhosis of the liver. There is an enormous burden on the national health service, especially in A and E departments at weekends. I wonder what the British Medical Association and the unions representing the staff in those departments feel about this.

Oceans of cheap alcohol are still being sold in supermarkets and bought and consumed illegally by young people, often with the collaboration of older people. These things are still not being addressed seriously. Vast numbers of people are drinking under age. They are being hooked on alcohol young so that they will spend their lives drinking and making more profits for the drinks industry. I am not a spoilsport. I enjoy alcohol myself, Mr Deputy Speaker, as you may have observed, though not, I hope, to excess. Nevertheless, I am aware of its dangers. Making the culture more liberal and relaxed reduces rather than increases concerns about alcohol and makes us less likely rather than more likely to be self-controlled.

My most serious concern is about the thousands of babies born severely and permanently damaged by alcohol consumed in their mothers’ pregnancy. A more relaxed attitude towards alcohol consumption as regards Women’s Institute functions, going to bed and breakfasts and so on will do nothing to dissuade women who are seeking to become pregnant, or who are pregnant, from consuming alcohol.

The scientific research that I have mentioned in this House on a number of occasions shows that even small amounts of alcohol cause damage to babies. If one is drinking oneself, one is causing damage to oneself. Even an alcoholic has a choice about whether to drink, but an unborn baby does not have a choice as to whether its mother does so. This is very unfair on mothers, and on women, but we have to think about the children and what happens to them. We do not even have notices in every maternity clinic giving advice to women not to drink at all if they are seeking to conceive or if they are pregnant, yet apparently—I have not visited one recently—they all have warnings about smoking, which is less dangerous to foetuses than alcohol.

The alcohol culture is being fed into our general culture surreptitiously by the drinks industry. It is ever so nice and cuddly when it talks about these things, but it is actually talking about an addictive drug that causes terrible problems. Providing advice to all women from the age of puberty onwards about the dangers of alcohol to unborn children is absolutely crucial. Until the Government put on every drink canister a warning to women that they should not drink at all during pregnancy—accompanied by a symbol of a pregnant woman, as happens in the United States—I will not be satisfied and will continue to pursue the issue.

We need minimum unit pricing. It is possible, even now, to buy vast quantities of alcohol very cheaply, including 3-litre bottles of cider, in supermarkets. A simple unit price of 50 p per unit would be reasonable. It would have no effect on beer drinkers in pubs or on the average wine drinker, but it would stop oceans of very cheap alcohol being handed to children and others who abuse alcohol.

The Government have to wake up and take alcohol seriously. Although this liberalising measure is cuddly, nice and warm and we all like the idea of Women’s Institutes having a little wine in the evening—that is fine—what we are actually doing is encouraging more alcohol consumption rather than less, and creating a more relaxed environment and culture for the consumption of alcohol. That is a mistake, given Britain’s serious problem with alcohol.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

Let me respond first to Kelvin Hopkins. If he is going to judge the Government’s alcohol strategy, it is important that he does so in the round, rather than simply assuming that what we are discussing today represents its totality. The reality is that the Government has taken a number of steps to deal with alcohol harms and continues to do so.

The Home Office works in close conjunction with the Department of Health on these matters. We have made it easier for local police to close down problem premises. We have banned sales of alcohol below cost price. We are challenging the industry very firmly to make progress on the sorts of issues referred to by the hon. Gentleman, including the availability of high-strength, cheap 3-litre bottles of cider. I am also pushing the industry on how alcohol is promoted, particularly in supermarkets. We are taking a whole range of actions to try to deal with alcohol harms.

It is important, as part of a sensible strategy, to identify what the problems are and deal with them firmly, but we should not apply the same sledgehammer approach—if one may call it that—to an area where there is no problem, and there is no problem with a women’s institute offering someone a glass of wine. That is what today’s debate is about. The hon. Gentleman needs to judge the strategy in the round rather than assume that this represents its totality, as he appeared to do in his contribution.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

In all kinds of ways, Britain seems to resist imposing rules that seem restrictive, but in the end we are forced into them. I remember people opposing the wearing of crash helmets on motorcycles, while seat belts were not made compulsory here until years after other countries had done so. I also remember resistance to the breathalyser—it is only Barbara Castle who had a bit more courage and gumption to push it through—but now we recognise that drinking and driving is wrong. Is not the Minister just part of a long tradition of resisting change that will ultimately come about?

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

I am in a long tradition of providing pragmatic answers to the problems that present themselves and of responding to them in a measured, rather than over-zealous, way. We have to remember that we have to take people with us—we need to win hearts and minds. I also think that Britain is less authoritarian than many other countries. Some countries appear to be happy for their Governments to direct their way of life more than we do, but people in this country do not like being directed by the Government of the day and it is right that we respect that healthy response.

Let me turn to the comments of the shadow Minister, Chi Onwurah, who, unless I am mistaken, does not appear to know that we actually did consult on the alcohol strategy, including a question on the ancillary sellers’ notice, which matured into the provision under discussion. It is not true to say that there has been no consultation on the strategy or the measure, because there has been a consultation.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I did not say that there had been no consultation on the alcohol strategy; I said that no discernible alcohol strategy had come out of it and that the measures were not tabled in Committee or when the Bill was initially submitted.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

With respect, the hon. Lady said both things and the record will show that. There was a consultation, as part of the alcohol strategy, on a new, light-touch authorisation to reduce burdens on ancillary sellers of alcohol. That is what we are discussing this afternoon. It was consulted on, comments were fed back and they have informed the way in which we have taken matters forward.

I want to stress, as I did earlier, that this House now agrees in principle on this matter and the details of the scheme will be worked through in consultation, so Opposition Members and anybody else who wants to contribute will be able to do so. Although we will establish the principle this afternoon—if the House agrees, as I hope it will—we have not set out what we think should be the starting fee or the fee cap. We have not consulted on the details of powers of entry where they may be appropriate. We have not made any views known on the final decision about the maximum size of an accommodation provider. We have not yet given details on alcohol limits, which my hon. Friend James Duddridge referred to earlier, because we are open to consultation on them. We have not yet given a definition of the eligible community group and so on. That is deliberate, because we want this to be open for consultation so that people can genuinely express their views and we can take them into account.

The hon. Lady is wrong to say that the measures have been tabled at the last minute, because they have not in the sense that they were subject to consultation as part of the alcohol strategy and the details will be resolved in a consultation exercise. I am afraid that her interpretation of the process is simply wrong. The Opposition are very keen to complain when the Government does not listen to people. We have been listening and that is why we have taken time to frame the measures in this particular way.

The hon. Lady complains, as Diana Johnson, who is sitting further down the Opposition Front Bench, regularly does—because it is written down on a piece of paper they are supposed to read out, I imagine—that the Government’s alcohol strategy is apparently in complete chaos, but it is the Opposition’s strategy that is in complete chaos. The hon. Member for Luton North complains—understandably, in some ways—about his concerns about alcohol harms, but which Government brought in the liberalising Licensing Act 2003, which made alcohol available in more places for longer than at any time since the first world war? The Labour party did that. Labour Members cannot have it both ways, but that is what they seem to be trying to do.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North usually complains about late-night levies, but she does not mention the alcohol disorder zones her Government brought in, none of which was taken up. The Opposition need to be a little more careful in their accusations.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 2:15 pm, 14th May 2014

In my defence, I was opposed to what the previous Government did and I raised these matters with the then Secretary of State.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

I am almost tempted to say that that is a compliment, but that goes without saying and the hon. Gentleman has put it on the record for the benefit of the House.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central does not think that much is happening in terms of an alcohol strategy. Perhaps she has not noticed that her own local authority in Newcastle has introduced a late-night levy, which appears to be working rather well. I was very pleased to go there and join local councillors in launching it.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Minister for giving way a second time, but once again his ascription to me of a lack of knowledge is not accurate. I am very familiar with Newcastle’s late-night levy. Indeed, I discussed it with the leader of Newcastle city council, Nick Forbes, only yesterday evening. In some ways, it is the burden of cuts on local authorities across the country and on the police that makes such levies necessary. In this case, it was businesses in Newcastle that wished to introduce it.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker The Minister of State, Home Department

Indeed they did, and I think they made a very wise decision and that businesses and the public in Newcastle will benefit from the Government’s sensible option of a late-night levy. I hope that other councils up and down the country will follow the example of the hon. Lady’s council and introduce such a levy, which not only helps deal with public disorder, but provides a necessary income stream to recognise the cost of disorder to a particular city.

I appreciate that the hon. Lady’s focus has been on the Deregulation Bill rather than on the subject of alcohol so she will not have had sight of all the issues, but she said that we have blocked the public health licensing objective. That is not true. The matter remains under consideration. The fact is that if she looks at the local alcohol action areas, she will see that they are being used as a pilot for what might be done for public health licensing objectives. I agree that there is a public health issue about alcohol that should be taken into account, but it is not as simple as it is sometimes made out. That matter is being taken forward under the guise of the local alcohol action areas introduced by the Government.

The hon. Lady mentioned fees, and I reiterate that they will be subject to consultation. She wondered whether local councils are out of pocket, and asserted that they are out of pocket as a consequence of handling the present licensing regime. Taking that at face value and assuming she is right for the purpose of this discussion, if that is the case, the introduction of a light-touch regime will divert people from what is—according to her—presumably a loss-making activity for local councils to one that is rather simpler and will therefore reduce the loss for local councils. That is the logic of her position, so I hope that she will welcome the measure on that basis. I confirm that it is subject to the affirmative procedure, so there will be a full opportunity for Members on both sides of the House to contribute to the discussion as the measure is taken forward in a sensible way.

Lastly, I can tell the hon. Member for Luton North that minimum unit pricing remains an option. It is on the radar—it has not been ruled out—and it will be particularly on the radar if the alcohol industry does not respond sensibly to the challenges made by the Government. I commend the new clause to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 5 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.