My Lords, this order is designed to help tackle alcohol-related crime, nuisance and disorder, and to protect children as part of the Government's wider alcohol strategy. It sets out five new mandatory licensing conditions that will apply to all those licensed to sell or supply alcohol in the "on-trade", such as pubs, bars and members' clubs. In addition, the mandatory condition on age verification will also apply to the "off-trade", such as supermarkets, off-licences and convenience stores.
These conditions have been designed to bring an end to irresponsible promotions and practices in the retailing of alcohol; to ensure higher standards across all premises; to protect children; and to give customers greater choice in the size of drinks they can buy and the option to have free tap water. By making sure that all licensed premises across England and Wales meet these minimum responsibility standards, this order will help to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder and will make the night-time economy a safer place.
The draft order sets out five new mandatory licensing conditions that will: ban irresponsible promotions; ban the dispensing of alcohol directly into the mouth; ensure that customers have access to free tap water so that they can space out their drinks and not get too intoxicated too quickly; ensure that an age verification policy is in place to prevent underage sales; and ensure that customers have the opportunity to choose small measures of beers, ciders, spirits and wine. I think there is widespread agreement that promotions such as "all you can drink for £10"; "women or under-25s drink for free"; or "speed drinking competitions" are not the types of promotions that responsible businesses should run.
Opposition to the code has been raised in a debate in the other place and in the licensing trade press. I would like to take this opportunity to address some of those points so that noble Lords are clear on the content and impact of the order. The criticism has been put forward that the order is not needed and would not work. That is not the case. According to the British Crime Survey, in 2008-09 there were 973,000 alcohol-related violent offences in England and Wales. Dealing with alcohol-related crime costs society between £8 billion and £13 billion per year. Alcohol-related crime and disorder has a huge impact on local communities. The recent economic downturn has seen premises in some areas competing more aggressively with each other in order to attract customers. Often this will involve attracting customers through various forms of alcohol promotions, which encourage drunkenness and then turn the problem out on to the streets of our towns and cities, making them "no go" areas for the responsible majority of citizens who want to be there.
That is why this legislation is needed-to rule out those types of irresponsible promotions and practices. The police, local councils and those working in accident and emergency departments tell us of the cost of having to deal with this problem, but simply adding more enforcement to our streets on Friday and Saturday nights is not the answer. Those selling alcohol have a responsibility here not only to their customers but to the wider communities that they are part of.
Two government consultations-one in 2008 and one in 2009-have confirmed that the public, the police, and licensing authorities have strong support for this mandatory approach and the conditions outlined in the order. Will this approach work? Our consultation showed that those involved in enforcement and licensing at local level believe that this will have a positive effect and warmly support its introduction. This has been reinforced by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has recently sent us this statement of support. I shall read it in full so that I cannot be accused of misquoting. It says:
"These conditions, if adopted, applying as they will universally, are a proportionate way forward to assist in driving up standards of trading across the sector. In reducing such headline clearly irresponsible promotions, as already mentioned, and by ensuring some of the best practice is applied across an industry sector, this mandatory code will help to create a balanced atmosphere and serve as an example to responsible drinkers going out to enjoy the highly valued sections of the entertainment economy that have alcohol as a constituent part".
In addition, we have supporting statements from individual police forces such as Nottingham and north Yorkshire. It is not just the police that support this action, the alcohol retail industry also supports it. Heineken, which operates more than 2,000 pubs in the UK and is the country's biggest brewer, has also sounded its support. It has told us:
"Heineken UK welcomed the opportunity to participate fully in the consultation process on the Mandatory Alcohol Retailing Code. We found the Home Office to be open and responsive in taking on board industry concerns about some elements of the original draft, such as the local discretionary conditions. This partnership working approach has ensured the final version of the Code is proportionate, raising standards by banning the extreme end of promotions, such as drink all you can for £10. We do not believe this kind of deep discounting to drive footfall sits side by side with the promotion of responsible consumption".
We have similar supporting statements from other brewers-Greene King springs to mind. Heineken's statement continued:
"We also welcome the requirement to ensure free tap water and smaller measures are available as another contribution towards making town centres and our night-time economy a welcoming environment for everyone and achieving our shared aim of reduced alcohol-related crime and health harms".
Criticism has been made of the costs attached to the introduction of the mandatory code. The £381 million figure used in the impact assessment is an estimate of the costs to businesses over a 10-year period and applies only to those who do not currently do what this order will require, so if you are running a responsible premises, offering a choice of measures and running a Challenge 21 scheme, you will not incur any new costs. Page 14 of the impact assessment sets out that the annual cost to an affected licensed premises for the first year is £703 and £544 for subsequent years. This equates to £1.92 and £1.49 per day respectively for those premises that are not already doing any of what is set out in the order. Let me be clear that these figures include the age verification condition. Data show that 68 per cent of pubs and more than 80 per cent of off-licences and supermarkets already run a Challenge 21 or Challenge 25 scheme and therefore will incur no cost by virtue of this condition. It is also important to note that not all the costs set out in the impact assessment are "real costs" in terms of money paid out by a business. The impact assessment says that,
"all cost estimates presented are economic costs and not financial costs. A large proportion of the estimated costs are due to staff abstraction from other duties, which will not necessarily have any financial impact".
A number of on-trade businesses responded to the consultation saying that complying with the mandatory conditions would cost them nothing at all as they were already meeting these conditions. This was our intention when drafting the order-namely, to target only the irresponsible minority of alcohol retailers. It is important to reiterate that alcohol-related crime and disorder cost society between £8 billion and £13 billion per year.
As noble Lords will see from the draft order, the Government wish to delay the introduction of the conditions on age verification and ensuring the availability of small measures until October 2010 in order to allow businesses more time to prepare to comply with them. We are currently working with the licensed trade to make examples of suitable age verification policies available to businesses for them to use to help reduce the burden and to ensure that these policies are effective and of a good standard. I believe that this strikes the right balance between stamping out irresponsible promotions and practices in alcohol retail that contribute to crime and disorder and keeping the costs to businesses as low as possible. I beg to move.
My Lords, if the whole country did not know that there was an election coming, it would on reading this order. As the Government have been spectacularly unsuccessful in reducing the amount of alcohol-related crime over the period of this Parliament, they have now decided that this is the moment to introduce five of the nine mandatory conditions we were promised during the passage of last year's Policing and Crime Act. Why so few? Why were the Government so adamant last year that nine were necessary, but now we see only just over half that number? Could the Minister's colleagues not come up with any more abhorrent practices in pubs, or is it a case of legislate in haste and repent at leisure? Not all practices in pubs and clubs are abhorrent, of course. There is no doubt-and as the Explanatory Memorandum shows, the Government agree-that, when used responsibly, alcohol can enhance social occasions and can have an important and positive role to play in society. In this connection, I congratulate on-trade and off-trade alcohol producers and Drinkaware on their smarter drinking campaign of the past couple of years.
However, it is when alcohol is taken to excess that serious problems occur. Not only were there almost 1 million victims of alcohol-related violence last year-astonishingly, almost half of all violent crime is alcohol-related-but also, as the Minister told us, the cost to the taxpayer can be as much as £13 billion each year. The Government are not alone in wanting to reduce these costs and the social implications of alcohol abuse, which is why I feel so strongly about clearing up some of the issues in the order. Once and for all, real action could be taken and real improvements seen.
I am content with two of the five mandatory conditions. For instance, the mouth-to-mouth transference of alcohol is positively revolting and, I suspect, carried out only when the donor is drunk-I might be wrong on that and the Minister may be able to correct me. The provision of free tap water is also sensible. However, I note that the order does not state that it has to be potable. There are many taps in your Lordships' House, but only a few of them are described as suitable for drinking. I am surprised that it is necessary to legislate for the latter in such a heavy-handed way.
"The policy must require individuals who appear to the responsible person to be under 18 years of age (or such older age as may be specified in the policy) to produce on request, before being served alcohol, identification bearing their photograph, date of birth and a holographic mark".
This is a very obtuse policy. We on these Benches are aware of the continuing, significant problem of under-age drinking and want to support any sensible measure to stamp out the problem. However, this section does little more than provide premises with more confusion and bureaucracy, which this struggling industry certainly does not need. Is the Minister aware that this section may result in the wide-scale removal of operators of Challenge 21 or Challenge 25 policies? The order requires premises to have in place an age verification policy. That is fair enough-I read that as a single-age policy. Should a pub choose to apply a policy that requires its staff to request age verification from, let us say, every customer who appears to be under 30, an offence would be committed if the policy were not fully applied. In that instance, if a member of staff inadvertently failed to challenge someone who appeared to be under 30, an offence would be committed carrying a fine of up to £20,000. The rational choice for the pub would therefore be to operate a policy that required challenge only to individuals who appeared to be under 18, to avoid the risk of inadvertently breaching a policy that challenges customers who appear to be between the ages of 18 and 21 or 18 and 25. We suggest taking out the phrase,
"or such older age as may be specified in the policy".
I am also slightly perplexed by paragraph 7.7(ii) of the Explanatory Memorandum, which states that,
"the Government has decided to include a mandatory licensing condition to ensure that all those selling or supplying alcohol have an age verification policy in operation that requires them to check the identification of anyone who appears to be under the age of 18"- not any age, but 18-
"attempting to buy alcohol. The draft Order delays this condition coming into force until October 2010 to allow businesses"- as the Minister said-
"time to prepare".
Is this not already a mandatory condition? I thought that it was already a legal requirement to check everyone who appears, at the very least, to be under 18; namely, the legal age for buying alcohol in pubs, clubs, shops and so on.
Furthermore, the Explanatory Memorandum states:
"Where the young person had attempted to buy alcohol from a pub or club in the last month, 82% had been successful".
A 2009 survey found that young people are now drinking twice as much as they did in 1990. Considering these statistics and other frightfully high, and ever rising, under-age alcohol abuse figures, is the Minister happy that this policy is effective?
This section also requires people to provide an ID with a holograph. Is the Minister satisfied that all forms of ID which are currently used and accepted in the UK carry a holograph? I am thinking, for example, of National Union of Students cards and cards specific to educational establishments.
I move to the provisions stopping irresponsible promotions. Paragraph 1(2) of the schedule states that,
"an irresponsible promotion means any one or more of the following activities, or substantially similar activities, carried on for the purpose of encouraging the sale or supply of alcohol for consumption on the premises in a manner which carries a significant risk of lead.
It is followed by five examples. Can the Minister clarify whether the five actions are banned altogether, or are banned only if they are done in a manner,
"which carries a significant risk of leading or contributing to crime and disorder, prejudice to public safety, public nuisance, or harm to children"?
Paragraph 1(2)(a) covers,
"games or other activities which require or encourage, or are designed to require or encourage, individuals to ... (i) drink a quantity of alcohol within a time limit (other than to drink alcohol sold or supplied on the premises before the cessation of the period in which the responsible person is authorised to sell or supply alcohol), or ... (ii) drink as much alcohol as possible (whether within a time limit or otherwise)".
I presume that these "games" include a pub quiz or darts, where the prize for the winner is a certain amount of alcohol. Is that permitted if it is not done irresponsibly or does not carry a significant risk of leading or contributing to crime, disorder and so on? The same goes for the other headings in the schedule, or are these situations banned altogether regardless? Can I see publicans buying chutney, for example, to give as prizes?
We agree that drinking alcohol plays a traditional role in British culture and generally it is a positive one. The Government are right to note that, ultimately, whether people drink and how much is up to the individual and that it is their role to make sure that individuals are able to make informed choices and to encourage the public and businesses to act responsibly. However, the Government state in the Explanatory Memorandum that imposing a large number of blanket conditions would not be appropriate. What then do the Government consider the order to be-a small number of blanket conditions?
The order is riddled with poor drafting and ambiguity. For the Government to prescribe what may or may not take place within licensed premises across the UK under one order is in complete violation of any principle of delegating power and authority to an appropriate level and fails to explore the use of powers already available to address the problem. We can't go on like this. Labour has announced countless initiatives to tackle binge drinking, despite poor enforcement of existing laws; for example, fines for drinking in public. Maximum fines for offences are not being used. Between 2003 and 2007, the last year for which figures are available, only two people were fined more than £250 for refusing to stop drinking alcohol in a designated public place. We need a tougher licensing regime, but the Government need to realise that top-down solutions are not the only answers. We need to give more power back to local communities to control the number of licensed premises in their area.
Councils and the police desperately need more powers to crack down on under-age and irresponsible drinking. For example, under the Licensing Act 2003, there is a general presumption in favour of granting an application to sell alcohol. It needs to go. The police need powers to object to a licence, which should be applied for regularly. The licensee, whether current or potential, needs to prove that the police are wrong in any assessment that the police have made against them.
The guidance to the magistrates' courts also needs tightening regarding when a council licensing condition can be allowed and when it should not be. It should be extremely rare to overturn a council's decision. I also believe that if publicans break the law it should be axiomatic that not only the landlord but the premises itself should be sanctioned.
I can think of other things to curb irresponsible drinking, but this strange order is like the curate's egg-only good in parts and likely to give licensees a stomach-ache, if only because of the drafting. Was it ever looked at by a lawyer outside the Home Office? I doubt it; it shows.
My Lords, when I first read the draft order I thought it was really rather poor. However, I then reflected on whether an order that seems to me to be poorly drafted and incomplete should be opposed for those reasons, unless given the subject matter it was also positively harmful. The order is seeking to address real harm. The Minister has referred to the cost to society and to individuals through alcohol abuse.
I do not want to sound pious about this and in case anyone thinks I should not be speaking because I drink so very little, I will acknowledge that on medical forms I should perhaps say "yes" to the question, "Do your friends comment on your drinking?" because they do. I have criticisms and some questions but from the Front Bench I will say now that we are not inclined to oppose the order.
My first concern is that as licensing has been transferred to local authorities the authorities should be left to set the conditions. Can the Minister tell the House what the response of the Local Government Association, or maybe LACORS, was to the consultation? I would have thought that a menu of possible conditions from which a local authority as a licensing authority could pick would have been preferable but I understand that national guidelines issued to councillors mean that their discretionary power to reject a licence application has been severely curtailed. This leads me to ask what the status of the good practice guidance will be-which I understand from the debate in the Commons the Government are to issue?
I conducted a very small straw poll of councillors who have licensing responsibilities and their response was that this might be useful but was largely irrelevant-irrelevant because of the wider considerations of whether to grant the licence in the first place and the review of the licence. The detail of these conditions is not needed. There have been many occasions in your Lordships' House when I have proposed amendments to legislation and been warned of the danger of lists because of what is almost inevitably omitted. In addition, it seems to me not only is paragraph 1(2) of the schedule in danger of omitting descriptions of certain behaviour that should be there if the list were to be complete, the more detailed I think the more easily avoided or evaded.
We are not in a position to amend this order. Perhaps, and this would have answered the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, if paragraph 1(2) had simply stated "an irresponsible promotion means one or more activities carried on for the purposes of encouraging the sale" and so on, up to the word "children", without describing what those activities were, I think that would have met the point.
I have criticisms of some other detail in paragraph 1(1) of the schedule. The responsible person, let us call him the licensee for this debate is to take all reasonable steps to ensure staff do not carry out or participate in irresponsible promotions. I would have thought that a licensee should be under strict liability to ensure that the staff do not get involved in such promotions. Paragraph 3 refers to,
"tap water where reasonably available".
Where is it not available in the sorts of premises that we are talking about?
Paragraph 2 refers to disability, which is defined in the 1995 Act as "substantial or long-term". Concern has been expressed that that would catch somebody who is unable to drink, but not long term unable to pick up a glass, perhaps because of two broken wrists. I was in the position a few months ago of being offered operations on both hands at the same time, which I rejected. I would not have been able to pick up a glass at that point. The noble Baroness is laughing. My response to the surgeon was, "I would need a wife". More seriously, can the Minister meet that concern and explain just what that paragraph means?
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, referred to mouth-to-mouth transfer of alcohol. I do not think it is mouth-to-mouth; the word is "directly", which is a bit different. Can the Minister confirm that this does not catch the yard of ale which is a custom in some places? If one were to say to a friend, "What do you think of this? Taste this", would that be de minimis and not something which would cause a breach of the conditions?
Your Lordships will have had a good deal of lobbying expressing concern about age verification. I am perhaps not as troubled as others seemed to have been, but let me put the question this way. Can the Minister confirm that there is nothing to stop the higher age limit of, say, 21 or 25 being applied and that checking that someone was not under 21 or under 25 would actually meet this provision? Can he also say how formal the policy, which is the word used in paragraph 4, would have to be-a separate policy pub-by-pub, club-by-club? The largest cost by far for affected premises relates to this. It is important to know that this is as straightforward as possible for each of them.
Can the Minister also explain the extent of the term "premises licence holder"? Concern has been expressed, and it was in the Commons I think, about distance sellers being caught; for example, if you order a case of wine over the internet. I do not regard that as being caught. It does not seem to me that the term "premises" or "served alcohol" would apply, but it would be good to have that on the record.
The major criticisms are that the order does not entirely cover the off-licence trade and most of all that it does nothing to promote minimum pricing. I say that most of all because it would according to what I have seen of the lobbying and reporting of the issues generally and common sense, it would do most to help reduce binge drinking and drinking by children. It would also ensure that people whose consumption is moderate are not penalised as they are by increases in duty, nor would it penalise responsibly run pubs. I raise it although as far as I can see the underlying primary legislation does not allow for this and it could not be done by statutory instrument. The Minister may have a comment on that as well. Though we are not much persuaded by the draft order, that is not the same as opposing it and we will not do so.
I rise to bring a slightly different tone to this debate. I declare my interest as a member of the BMA and the Royal College of Physicians. I welcome this order, because, in all honesty, I welcome anything that tries to address the culture that we have of grossly irresponsible drinking. If I am right-and I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm this-the balance up till now, following the Licensing Act 2003, has favoured commercial operators over local residents. This, combined with parallel reforms in Section 33 of the Policing and Crime Act, will allow a swing back to people at a more local level, so that they can navigate review systems more easily when they live adjacent to premises in their community that are being adversely affected by the drinking habits locally.
As the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said, there have been an alarming number of alcohol-related hospital admissions and, indeed, deaths. The problem overall is one of public safety. It is not about stopping people doing what they want to do sociably; it is about protecting those who have not had a drink from being killed or maimed, seriously or even in a minor way, by somebody who has drunk completely irresponsibly. It is against that background that I welcome this order, which I hope nobody will oppose. I agree that it does not go far enough, but at least it goes some of the way, which is to be welcomed.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, it is sad that we have not seen the introduction of minimum pricing. You can see students in the streets swigging on bottles of cheap spirits, especially vodka, which they have bought in the supermarket. They are getting "plastered" before they even start to go out for the night. They are drinking a lot of alcohol to get "front-loaded" before they go out elsewhere to drink. Student balls, of which I have attended many in my more senior years-no longer as a student-have sadly sometimes been a spectacle of the most awful drunken games, with students pouring spirits into the mouth of another student lying on the ground. That has had devastating consequences in the premises, from which that group of students is often banned. I welcome anything that will stop that happening. Some of those students are admitted with alcohol poisoning. It is the irresponsible behaviour of those around that pushed them further over the top when they were already severely intoxicated.
I think that the pubs would have welcomed minimum pricing, because their biggest threat must come from sales of very cheap alcohol in supermarkets. In a pub, those drinking are overseen and there is an onus to encourage responsible drinking. Landlords in a pub are much more likely to spot the underage than the supermarket checkout person will do. While there is a provision in the order about ID, I have a concern about fake ID, which is readily available over the internet and which fulfils all these criteria. Indeed, I have seen fake ID cards that look completely plausible. I can see that someone working at a supermarket checkout in particular, who is not familiar with the ways of some of these young people, would be completely taken in. It has become increasingly difficult to judge the age of young people, particularly girls, by their appearance.
I would appreciate it if the Minister could clarify that the tap water provision is to deal with things like pop festivals, where it may be difficult to have a tap out in the field-although one would hope that the organisers could run a hosepipe out across the field to a point, rather than sell water at very costly prices. They could certainly have a tank out there. I hope that there will be some imposition for pop concerts for drinkable water-"potable", from the French-to be supplied. With those reservations, I hope that nobody in this House will reject this order, because it will take us no further forward at all to do so.
It was my intention to oppose the order, although not for the reasons given by the noble Baroness-that some of us support irresponsible drinking. My issue with this comes from having dealt with the Licensing Act 2003. I remember that the Government pushed the Bill because they said that we were going to go for a continental-style café culture. Many of us argued that that would not be the case and that 24-hour drinking was not such a brilliant idea. I speak as someone with an interest, as I own a pub, and I understand that many landlords do not want to be open all hours of the day and night.
The important issue, and the reason why I oppose the order, is that the 2003 Act was meant to be a liberalising measure whereby local decision-making could deal with local problems. As the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, said, we cannot make rules top-down that would outlaw binge drinking; if we could, the major pieces of legislation that have been enacted would have had some effect. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, struck at the heart of the matter: pubs and clubs are usually a regulated environment. Some have problems, but usually they are a regulated environment. Indeed, under the 2003 Act, it is an offence to serve somebody who is drunk. The point that the noble Baroness made about people drinking before they go out is the real issue. The violence that takes place is often due to the very cheap alcohol that people can get from supermarkets. I was discussing this at a dinner party the other night and then counted the bottles afterwards. It is interesting what hypocrisy we all suffer from when talking about other people's drinking habits; we are a nation that drinks far too much.
I declare another interest as chairman of Best Bar None, a Home Office-funded scheme, which works with the pub and club trade to raise standards. The winner of the best scheme last year was Durham, where there has been a 36 per cent reduction in violent crime in the city centre. That is good for business as well, because there has been an increased footfall. Leicester won the year before; there was a 26 per cent reduction. Instead of bringing forward these mandatory codes, which cause an enormous amount of paperwork and bureaucracy for all involved-and the costs do not take into account the fact that there is an enormous amount of red tape for any landlord-we should make the system as simple as possible. However, we must make all those laws enforceable and all those people holding a premises licence act to the best of their abilities. That would bring down violent disorder.
One issue that I have with these mandatory codes relates to the question asked in the consultation process: why are we undertaking more mandatory codes rather than enforcing the laws that already exist? The answer reportedly given by the Home Office was that local authorities are not enforcing the laws. We have the laws in place; we just have to make sure that they are enforced. I very much hope that some of the issues raised here will not make life very difficult. It seems utterly ridiculous that, if you have a 24-hour policy on your books, you could have a problem, even if you are acting in a responsible manner, because you could lose your licence or be fined by the local authority, whereas someone who had only an 18-hour licence may not be. That is one problem that I have with the drafting.
I do not believe that there needs to be a vote on this, because I do not believe that it would take anything forward. We need to promote good practice schemes. Instead of having poorly drafted and draconian legislation, we need to work with the pub industry within the regulated environment and deal with the unregulated drinking that is taking place on every street corner in the country, including the underage youth drinking, which is a major problem. One issue that I have with this measure is that it talks about irresponsible pubs. In this House, I have heard people giving examples of massive drinking taking place in one pub or another. However, such drinking does not generally take place in responsible, regulated premises, because the measures in the 2003 Act mean that a pub could be closed down. I take on board entirely the point about the health implications, but we need to work with the industry, which is regulating, because we are not going to ban alcohol in this country in the very short term.
My Lords, I, too, was involved in the 2003 Act and was one of those who foresaw that there may be problems in a good many areas with the relaxation taking place. I look back now and see what has happened over the ensuing period and, while I support the measure before us this evening, I tend a little towards the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale-I would be surprised if a great deal changed as a result of this order being put into force.
If there was ever a case for post-legislative scrutiny, this is it. We should be taking the 2003 Act and working through it, consulting the public directly about what they think. Wherever I go, there is a general feeling that what has happened since 2003 has been quite disastrous from a whole variety of standpoints, not least the wide-scale extension of the granting of leases to sell alcohol. It is easy now to get your hands on alcohol. The situation would have been beyond belief when we passed the Act in 2003.
I live in Brighton and I have a few statistics for the Minister. For every 84 households in Brighton and Hove, there is now a bar or an off-licence to supply alcohol. There are 1,362 places selling alcohol-one for every 150 adults in Brighton. The director of public health, Dr Tom Scanlon, states that 25 per cent of the 205,000 adults in Brighton are drinking hazardously, with alcohol-related admissions to local hospitals doubling between 2003 and 2008. Thirty-six men and women out of every 100,000 Brightonians are dying from alcohol-related issues. This is an epidemic. If it was under a different heading-"Accidents on the road", for example-people would be crying scandal and saying that something must be done about it.
We have some major problems. I am sorry that the Government have still not been prepared to embrace the minimum alcohol pricing per unit. My question to my noble friend is: when are we going to do something about pricing? Equally, I come back to the point about the granting of local licences. It appears that localism is operating in the granting of licences. However, when one examines what each of the responsible bodies involved with granting the licences is saying, they are all unhappy with the situation and are blaming each other-or someone-for having created this liberalism that means that virtually anybody who wants a licence these days can get one without too much trouble. In an area not covered by the debate this evening, we have seen the growth of the granting of licences to off-licence premises. The number that has been granted is phenomenal. If you walk down the street now and look at a shop, it will say not just "Grocer", but, "Off-licence", all tagged on. In the area where I live in Brighton, almost everyone now has a licence. Some of them are even open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and residents are complaining about the noise and activities that go on around them. This has to be addressed-and in a much stronger fashion than we have been willing to do so far.
As I say, I support the instrument before us. It is better having these provisions than nothing at all, but really we need a more fundamental review in the future, hoping that the Government are back in power. I trust that the Minister can give some indication of the areas that need further work and say where we might see far more effective policies brought to bear-perhaps even a piece of post-legislative scrutiny.
I reply briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. Does he not believe the words in the Explanatory Memorandum that the mandatory regulation has been made necessary because the voluntary code, agreed by the industry in 2005, has not been followed? The document states:
"Whilst the majority of premises are well-run, the review revealed a disturbing level of irresponsible and harmful practice in significant sectors of the industry, along with evidence that the current social responsibility standards were not being consistently applied or were ineffective in promoting good practice".
I am sure that that does not apply to his own pub, which I am sure is run impeccably, but a lot of people out there are not sticking to that voluntary code of practice, which is the reason for these mandatory regulations. I do not think that it is enormously draconian-it is really quite a small raft of mandatory conditions. This is a useful, but not sufficient, regulation.
My Lords, as ever when we discuss orders such as this, the number of questions is legion. I will seek to do my best with all of them, or certainly most of them. If I fail, I will write to your Lordships. Also, there is always a bit of a disadvantage for the opposition spokespersons, who have to decide what they are going to say before they hear the Minister's speech. A number of questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, were dealt with in my opening statement.
I will deal with specific points. Why did we say nine and why have we only introduced five? The Policing and Crime Act allows for up to nine conditions. This would ensure that we got the balance right between central government setting out what licensed premises should be doing and leaving local licensing authorities in the driving seat. All the stakeholders and general public suggest that the issues set out in this order are those on which it is right to take action now. I turn to an important point that my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe and others have raised. This does not mean that in the future more will not be added or, indeed, some removed. Having up to nine conditions set out in secondary legislation gives us flexibility to tackle any issues that arise in future.
For example, we can see the connection between binge drinking and health issues, but we are not in a clear position to see the relationship between drinking alcohol bought from supermarkets, for example, and crime-related issues. We all feel that we have seen something, but we need evidence. The University of Sheffield is undertaking a further piece of research for us, which will be available later this spring. If there were compelling evidence and the Government decided to introduce minimum unit pricing, there is no reason why that could not be done within the remaining four unallocated parts of the order. It would then be subject to affirmative resolution in this House, but this is not something that is set in stone.
On the question of whether drinking water would need to be of a potable standard, it has to be tap water and therefore by definition has to be of a potable standard.
I do not know when the Minister was last on a train, but cold water comes out of a tap that firmly states that the water is not for drinking. Trains serve alcohol, after all.
Trains also serve tea. As far as I understand it, non-potable water is not used for making tea. That is a tiny point. The truth is that in the past there has been a reluctance to provide tap water in some areas, but in the majority of cases it is provided without too much difficulty. A good point was made about pop festivals, which cover a large area. If the licensing law demands that something happens, it will be for the promoters to find a way of making it happen. They will not be relieved of that duty.
Another point about water was determining what was reasonable. If you suddenly lost your water supply at 10 o'clock at night in your pub, it would not be reasonable to expect you to provide tap water. But it would be totally unreasonable if you said, "We haven't had any tap water for three weeks and we are not bothering to get it repaired. When the man comes round to fix it we'll start giving you tap water but in the mean time, tough". It is a question of common sense.
There was another fear that this will impinge on the Challenge 21 and Challenge 25 schemes. There seems to be some worry in the minds of noble Lords that this could have a damaging effect. It does not bring an end to Challenge 21. Any business choosing to operate a scheme that builds in due diligence by asking those who may appear to be under 21 and could be potentially under the legal age of 18 would not be punished for not asking for the ID of a 20 year-old. The IDs that will be considered are the ones with holograms such as a driving licence, pass or passport.
I recommend a very useful piece of plastic-an ID card-which will not only provide the ability to go into clubs and pubs and prove your age but the ability to travel around Europe without carrying your passport. One of the difficulties of young people carrying passports, as I know to my cost, is that they get badly damaged by people carrying them to prove their age in pubs and clubs. They are carried in the back pockets of jeans which are then subject to rather violent dancing on occasions, so there is damage.
As I explained in my opening statement, we are working with the industry to ensure that we have verification schemes in place that meet the aims with minimum additional cost to the industry by the time this comes into effect in October. We are anxious to ensure that we put in place what is already in place for the vast majority of people. Many parts of the industry have already introduced these schemes, hence the requirement to carry your passport or ID. The short answer to the noble Lord's question is no.
Is it an offence to sell to under-18s if they do not have an ID? The offence at the present time is not the ID check but the selling of alcohol. The order will bring a requirement for the first time to check the ID. The noble Lord is also concerned about whether our response is disproportionate. We believe that it is not given the high level of public concern about alcohol-related crime and disorder-we heard some examples from the noble Lord himself. Some 26 per cent feel that drunken or rowdy behaviour is a particular problem in their local area. A key figure of 90 per cent of respondents to the public consultation supported a mandatory code of practice, which answers the question of whether what we are doing will bring confidence to the public. I believe that it will.
The five minimum standards that we have set out are not disproportionate. We believe that the costs are reasonable and will not apply to many business premises. We cannot leave local authorities to do it all by encouraging them to review every licensed premises because there are 130,000 of them. This way, by bringing in mandatory requirements, we achieve that end with a much smaller cost to local authorities. We argue that local authority enforcers should be making the most of the powers available to them. That is why we have a large training programme in place to ensure that police and licensing authorities are fully aware of the powers they have and how they use them. We are running a series of two-day alcohol enforcement training seminars in our 50 priority areas aimed at magistrates, court officials, elected members who sit on licensing committees and operational police officers. This training will ensure that those in the front line are aware of the tools and powers available to them and are confident in using those powers.
The noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, asked whether any lawyers outside the Home Office had seen the order. This went to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, legal advice was given to that committee and the drafting was indeed amended to take account of and reflect those comments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, also raised the question of the national application of mandatory standards over the localism of the licensing act. It cannot be seriously argued that this order shifts the balance of the licensing act in favour of central government over local discretion. What we hope it does is give new powers to individual councillors in the Policing and Crime Act to allow them to act as interested parties so that they can call for a licensing review themselves. We also recognise that local discretion is the right way forward in most circumstances. There are two mandatory conditions, however, for a licensed premises which supplies alcohol. This is right because it is right for Government to send out minimum standards that they expect all retailers to adhere to. This is what we are doing in this order. That is why we think-
I was going to come to that. The Local Government Association did not in fact support these proposals. However, many local licensing authorities and local authorities did. Somewhere here I have a list of them as long as your arm-from Northumberland to Birmingham. My noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe cited Brighton and the very large number of licensing establishments in one form or another there. Brighton, however, is not typical, because it is a seaside resort. Brighton has an influx of visitors, both on a holiday basis and for the weekend or for just a day. You could apply the same criteria to Blackpool and a number of other seaside resorts that would not necessarily apply in smaller areas. He talks of the number of inhabitants per licensed premises. In my village, for example, there are 2,500 people and one licensed establishment-the pub-and no off-licence.
What we are seeking to do is support that localism because the conditions will change very considerably over the country as a whole. That is presumably why we have a variety of supportive statements from everything from Kensington and Chelsea, Birmingham City Council, Sefton council, Runnymede, Northumbria, Cumbria, Bury-my second favourite football team-Sandwell and Newcastle-under-Lyme. In those terms, we are seeking to look at and ban the extreme ends of the promotions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked me if we were banning the yard of ale. The answer is that if the yard of ale is to be drunk in the time determined by the recipient or purchaser of it, that is one thing. If they are in a race to get it down their neck as quickly as possible, that we think is irresponsible.
The other basic issue, of course, is that when we produce the guidance, it will be in plain English to make it very clear what will fall clearly on one side and clearly on the other side of what is deemed to be responsible. The guidance will be encouraging those who seek to make a promotion, whether it is a regular one or just a one-off, to first approach their local authorities if they have any doubts.
As to the question about age verification in respect of mail order and online sales-like the wine clubs that some of us belong to-the answer is that it will make no difference there. There is a responsibility on the person who is selling the wine to verify that those who are seeking to buy it are over 18. That is normally done because they want you to pay by credit card. But there is no requirement at the present time on the person who delivers the wine. When it is delivered to your house, if your 14 year-old daughter or son signs for it, it will in no way be an issue.
Another question related to the licence-holder of the premises and who has the responsibility for the age verification. We believe that that belongs to the person who is responsible for the licence of the premises. Clearly, they will be responsible for their staff, who could be part-time. They will know how to advise their staff, having determined their own policy in line with the order. I believe I have dealt with minimum pricing.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, that the order, with the new powers in the Policing and Crime Act, puts more power in the hands of local people. As I have said, local council members can call for reviews based on the concerns of local residents. On the question of minimum unit prices and cheap supermarket alcohol, I recognise some of those circumstances. That is why what seems to many people to be an esoteric issue is quite serious: people having alcohol poured into their mouths, usually, as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, says, when they are already inebriated. This can have serious effects on both their behaviour and their health.
On the question of forms of ID, we have given a list of those that will need to have holograms. I recognise that there is an industry out there that is always able to produce a fake of something you want to be genuine. There is a limit to how far we can go but our approach is as firm as it can be.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked several questions, but I was rather disappointed in him today. I have been reading the Morning Advertiser and I know that he has had a survey done. He asked the readers of that august journal to support rejection of the order. I was interested to know what figures the noble Lord had but he did not give them.
The responses showed that 63 per cent wanted the order shelved and 36.8 per cent wanted it kept. However, I was interested, on reading the responses, to see that a large number of health charities had taken part. There seemed to be a division between the publicans who responded and those who are involved in the health industry.
I am not really surprised. I was rather disturbed that one of the questions said that local authorities and the police were opposed to the order when, in practice and at operational and national level, we can show that it is not true in the case of the police. It is also not true of local authorities and the public. There were several other questions, none of which, I think, would fundamentally change the debate. As I have said, the order has been scrutinised by the JCSI and the Merits Committee. We consulted and there was a 90 per cent response. We consulted twice, in 2008 and 2009.
Finally, one word that I do not think can be applied to the order, although it has been applied by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is "draconian". The order is not draconian; it is proportionate. There is, I am sure, room for improvement in the future. I am sure we will return to this when further evidence is available. This is a proportionate measure to bring some relief to communities that suffer from the misbehaviour and anti-social behaviour of people who induce themselves to get drunk as quickly as possible in circumstances where they are behaving irresponsibly. Those landlords and others who do not support the responsible drinking patterns that most of us have make up the minority. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for his leadership of organisations that seek to support responsible drinking patterns. On this occasion, the order is required and I trust your Lordships will support that view.