Clause 40 - Sale of liqueur confectionery to children under 16: abolition of offence

Deregulation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I hope that this will not have a flavour of the knitting yarn clause to it. This is an important proposal in front of us. This clause abolishes the provision which makes it an offence to sell liqueur confectionery to a child aged under 16. That is an unnecessary burden on businesses and provides little if no protection to children. Of course, the sale of alcohol to under-age children is a serious offence that the Government are keen to crack down on. We have doubled the fine for persistently selling alcohol to children from £10,000 to £20,000. However, liqueur confectionery is not a risk to children and places undue burdens on businesses.

Photo of Gareth Johnson Gareth Johnson Conservative, Dartford

I support the clause, because in my experience retailers are unaware of the current provision, and, as the Minister said, it does not seem to offer much protection. Can he confirm that the sale of liqueur chocolates to children under the age of five will still be against the law?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I will seek confirmation of that. My understanding is that the provision relates to those under the age of 16, which presumably would include children under the age of five. Hopefully I will get some clarification of that, although I imagine that the prospect of children under the age of five actually buying liqueur chocolates is quite remote. May I also say to the Committee that one of the earliest questions I asked about this clause was whether it was possible for a child under the age of 16 to get drunk on chocolate liqueurs. I was assured that the child would be sick long before they could get drunk, because they would have to consume so many.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

The only concern that I would have is if confectioners or purveyors of alcohol find devious ways of disguising alcohol for children in some kind of confectionery. It is a stupid argument, but perhaps an Easter egg full of alcohol might be considered confectionery when it is actually an alcoholic drink.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I suspect that there are separate regulations that would ensure that a retailer could not disguise a Cadbury’s egg or something that contains vodka. If that is not the case I will get back to the hon. Gentleman, but I am confident that the clause will not provide a loophole for manufacturers to produce something laced with alcohol disguised as an Easter egg or something similar.

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

The Minister may rest assured that we consider this clause to be just as important as the clause on knitting yarn. I am interested in his assurance that children would be sick before they consume enough alcohol to become drunk. Have there been studies or tests that he can share with the Committee? I have seen small bottles of American bourbon in chocolate. I do not know whether we produce them in this country, but how would they be treated under the clause?

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 3:45 pm, 13th March 2014

Again, I hope to get some clarification on that issue. I can confirm to the hon. Lady that although in the past some politicians thought it appropriate to use their own children as a means of assessing the impact of policies, I have not tested this policy with my children. However, other experiments may have been conducted.

I have some clarification on the issue of how much alcohol there is in chocolates. Liqueur confectionary does not fall within the definition of alcohol in section 191 of the Licensing Act 2003. It is defined as:

“confectionery which…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…either consists of separate pieces weighing not more than 42g or is designed to be broken into such pieces for the purpose of consumption”.

In other words, it does not contain much alcohol. I hope I have satisfied the hon. Lady’s inquisitiveness.

Liqueur confectionary is not a risk to children, and we believe that the regulation places an undue burden on businesses, which do not know that there are rules that affect the sale of liqueur confectionary. It is not an illicit source of alcohol for children, but business must train their staff to comply with the current prohibition. The Government are committed to preventing the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences and taking unnecessary offences off the statute book. The clause will repeal the offence of selling liqueur confectionery to children under 16, thereby removing an unnecessary offence and simplifying the age-restricted sales law. Retailers and enforcers alike will be able to concentrate on compliance with the rules that we really need, such as the criminal offence of selling alcohol to children.

Anyone will be able to buy liqueur confectionary regardless of age. The Government are committed to reducing the burdens on businesses, and the repealing of the offence does that without undermining the important safeguards against alcohol-related crime. I commend the clause to the Committee.

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

On the subject of how much alcohol is in liqueur chocolates, I am told that a person would have to eat the equivalent of nine Mars bars of liqueur chocolates—450 grams—to consume the same quantity of alcohol as in a bottle of wine. To put that in context, if a person ate the equivalent of a Mars bar and a half, they would have consumed the equivalent of a glass of wine. Therefore, it is not an insignificant source of alcohol, but none the less it is not huge.

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

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that that is not consistent with the Minister’s conviction that a child would be sick before consuming enough alcohol to be drunk? I know many children who could eat one, two, three or four Mars bars without being sick.

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

That is true. One of the interesting things about the clause is that in my experience children are unlikely to like liqueur chocolates. It is almost like tabling a clause to allow them to have Werther’s Originals. It seems unlikely that we are going to free up lots of children to start enjoying liqueur chocolates.

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con) rose—

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

We might be about to hear from somebody who loved a good liqueur chocolate in her teens.

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Conservative, Romsey and Southampton North

I would like to reinforce the view that if there is one thing that will guarantee to make a child spit out a chocolate as quickly as possible, it is to make sure that it is a liqueur one.

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

Precisely. Something that is worth considering, when we get past Christmas, and we have those chocolates, and the kids are always raiding them, is to move the map and tell them that there are a couple of liqueur chocolates in there. That would probably keep them off all of them. So we are debating allowing people to do something they do not want to do in the first place and whether that should be allowed in the interests of deregulation.

Interestingly, the issue has been debated before. In 1961 it was actually a Conservative Government who first made it an offence to introduce liqueur chocolates. During the passage of the 2003 Act, the Conservative MP for North East Cambridgeshire at the time, Mr Malcolm Moss, tabled an amendment to increase the age at which a person was allowed to eat liqueur chocolates from 16 to 18. That was the view of the Conservatives at the time—not that we should free five-year-olds to be able to enjoy a nice whisky, but that we should stop 17-year-olds, who were allowed to join the Army or ride a moped, from being able to have a liqueur chocolate. The more things change, the more they stay the same, but that was where the Conservatives were at the time.

We think that the clause will have a tiny impact on business, and an even tinier impact on the number of liqueur chocolates eaten. None the less, it is not in our interests to stand in the way of the tiny number of children who wish to eat liqueur chocolates if they do. On that basis, we will support this minuscule clause.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Let me respond to some of the points that have been raised. There is clearly a very low risk that children use liqueur confectionery as a source of alcohol, so the clause will not result in under-age alcohol misuse. The impact assessment did cover the issue of children being sick before getting drunk, apparently. I do not know how that was done, but that is the case.

The hon. Member for Luton North raised the interesting issue of lacing chocolate eggs with alcohol. For the purposes of today’s debate, it is worth noting that alcohol in chocolate eggs is not considered to be liqueur confectionery, so that might have to be covered under separate legislation.

On the subject of under-fives, just to be clear, liqueur chocolates are not alcohol. The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 bans the giving or sale of alcohol to all children under the age of five, but under the Bill, under-fives, if they did go into a shop, would be able to buy liqueur chocolates.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 40 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.