Licensing Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 15th May 2003.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment No. 457, in
clause 146, page 79, line 7, leave out '16' and insert '18'.
Amendment No. 458, in
clause 146, page 79, line 10, leave out '16' and insert '18'.
Amendment No. 459, in
clause 146, page 79, line 13, leave out '16' and insert '18'.
Amendment No. 460, in
clause 146, page 79, line 15, leave out '16' and insert '18'.
Amendment No. 461, in
clause 146, page 79, line 18, leave out '16' and insert '18'.
Amendment No. 462, in
clause 146, page 79, line 23, leave out '16' and insert '18'.
These are probing amendments to ascertain from the Government why the age limit is 16 for the consumption of liqueur confectionery, not 18 as in our amendments. Can the Minister tell us whether the clause sets a precedent, or is 16 the age in the existing law? Has he had representations from the trade or any other quarter suggesting that he should set the age limit at 16? Clause 146 is related to clause 188, which defines alcohol for the purposes of the Bill. Subsection (2) gives a definition of ''liqueur confectionery'' that is so complicated that anyone attempting to police or regulate that matter would find it almost impossible to know exactly what he had in
his possession, or what the offending 16-year-old had in their possession.
Clause 188 states that
'' 'liqueur confectionery' means confectionery which—
(a) contains alcohol in a proportion not greater than 0.2 litres of alcohol (of a strength not exceeding 57%) per kilogram of the confectionery, and
(b) either consists of separate pieces weighing not more than 42g or is designed to be broken into such pieces for the purpose of consumption''.
That is complex. I wonder if it is over-regulation, and whether we need all that detail.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Like him, I was rather perturbed about why that was necessary, but I have done a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation. If you ate 450 g of liqueur chocolates, you would drink the same quantity of alcohol as that in a bottle of wine with a volume content of 12 per cent.
And you would be very sick.
I do not mean you, Mr. Benton. I am not sure whether people suffering from the side effects would be suffering from excess chocolate or excess alcohol.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that illumination. It might be helpful to go a little further into it. Can he tell us what 450 g looks like? Would it be one bar of chocolate or several?
It is equivalent to a pound of chocolate in imperial measures—and that is a significant quantity of chocolates with alcohol centres for anyone to consume.
Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The amendments are probing. They are designed to find out from the Government the reason for the provision. Was it in the Licensing Act 1964? Are the Government simply replicating that, or are there some new developments that we ought to know about?
This is a fascinating subject. I know people who could easily eat 450 g of chocolate at one sitting.
Amendments Nos. 456 to 462 would make it an offence to sell liqueur confectionery to anyone under the age of 18. The offence of selling liqueur confectionery to anyone under the age of 16, which has existed since 1961, would thereby be extended. As far as I am aware, that offence has worked well for the past 42 years. There have been no complaints or concerns about its extent under the Bill in any of the consultations or in my postbag. I should be interested to hear if any other hon. Members have had correspondence about it.
Furthermore, it seems unreasonable to prevent people of 16 or 17 years of age, who can legally marry, join the Army or ride a moped, from buying their grandma a box of whisky liqueur chocolates at Christmas. Liqueur chocolates are not a source of illicit alcohol for young people. The alcohol content is controlled by law, and there is an existing protection for children below the age of 16. The Committee may
also be fascinated to know that there are and will remain tougher controls on alcoholic jellies and fruit in alcohol, which can be purchased only by someone aged 18 or over, because of their higher strength. I shall explore those ranges on the supermarket shelves.
In short, I am not aware that the sale of liqueur confectionery to 16 or 17-year-olds causes problems. The offence as originally provided for has worked well. There is no case for a change, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment. If he does, I will consider seriously giving him a little strip of liqueurs for Christmas.