Clause 187 - Location of Sales

Part of Licensing Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 20th May 2003.

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Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport 9:45 am, 20th May 2003

At the moment, clear laws determine how distance-selling can take place. The law on the subject emanates from the European Union, and regulates the relationship between the buyer and the seller in respect of distance sales. It is not concerned with the regulation of the sale, by retail, of alcohol. The clause will ensure that the regulatory controls bite when the alcohol is handled.

Scottish warehouses will, of course, be under the jurisdiction of the Scottish legal system. We would certainly talk to the Scottish Administration about that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that a major and extensive review of Scottish law relating to alcohol is going on. Our officials are involved in discussions with their counterparts in Scotland to ensure that the proposals in the Bill move in concert with what is proposed for Scotland; I can give him that assurance.

Of course, there will be occasions when Scottish websites or call centres offer alcohol for sale to the general public throughout the United Kingdom. The premises from which any alcohol so purchased is sent may also be in Scotland. Such sales of alcohol would fall under Scottish licensing law and would be subject to enforcement by the Scottish authorities, so the retailers are not getting away with things Scot free—if hon. Members will excuse the pun. I am not for one moment implying that that is what the hon. Gentleman meant. The Scottish authorities are considering the issue carefully.

The amendment would reverse the proper position, and would mean that the sale of alcohol was deemed to be made at the place where the contract was made—say, an office or a call centre—where no alcohol was stored. That would be different from the place from which the alcohol was supplied. The place where the contract was made would require a premises licence, and a warehouse or other premises supplying alcohol would not. I cannot support the amendment, because where the sale and supply of alcohol take place at different venues, it would remove from the scope of the licensing regime the places from which the alcohol is distributed, which are typically premises where alcohol is stored in large quantities.

Given that such premises would not be subject to the licensing regime, the amendment would also remove the requirement in the Bill for there to be a personal licence holder, designated as supervisor, who can be contacted when necessary. It would also remove the ability of the police and other responsible bodies to inspect or enter such premises when necessary. The amendment would have a big effect on other parts of the Bill.

In addition, hon. Members need to realise that a website or call centre could easily be established, as I have argued, under foreign jurisdiction, where it would not be licensable. It would not be the first time that websites had been sited abroad deliberately to avoid UK laws or tax regimes. Indeed, I am sure that we all recall the fierce debates in recent years about gambling and gaming. Companies went offshore to avoid paying tax in this country—to the detriment of many of the

games that received a percentage of the profits or receipts of gambling to further the sports in question.

By focusing on premises from which the alcohol is delivered, we can ensure that steps are taken to promote the licensing objectives, particularly with regard to the protection of children in this country. I appreciate that some people running such warehouses may think that the situation is unfair, but I am afraid that in this modern age of internet sales by credit card, this is the only means of ensuring that proper controls are applied. Those engaged in such sales must recognise that their responsibilities cannot be evaded. Those delivering the goods are profiting from such contracts, and they too must accept their responsibilities.

When the Licensing (Young Persons) Act 2000, which was the product of a private Member's Bill, was before the House, my predecessors gave undertakings to address concerns about internet sales when the main licensing laws were reformed. Clauses 144(1) and 187 fulfil that undertaking by making it an offence to sell alcohol to children anywhere, not just on licensed premises, and by ensuring that the premises from which the goods are delivered are licensed and subject to the loss of licence if they breach the law. Those were undertakings sought by the Conservative party and freely given by my party. I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.