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Garage Sales

Volume 126: debated on Monday 1 February 1988

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After section ((3) of the principal Act, there shall he inserted the following subsection—

"(3A) premises which in whole or in part are engaged in the retailing of petrol or dery to motorists or other users of motor vehicles shall be disqualified for receiving a justices' off-licence.".—[Sir Bernard Braine.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.30 pm

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The purpose of the new clause is to prohibit the granting of off-licences to petrol stations and garages. The arguments in favour of the clause are simple, obvious and self-evident: alcohol and driving are plainly mismatched.

I have been unable to obtain up-to-date information about the number of off-licences granted to garages and petrol stations, but I understand that the number is not large—probably less than 100. Indeed, I understand that licensing committees are more likely to refuse than to grant such a licence. However, the fact that applications are being made is a cause for concern. The purpose of the clause is to ensure consistency of practice by giving licensing committees clear directives, which I believe the vast majority would greatly welcome. Some directives would also be particularly welcome to the licensing justices in the vast majority of areas which have, quite rightly, held out against the granting of such licences.

The police would also welcome the clause. Indeed, it was prompted by a letter to me from the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, which stated that, at the last executive committee meeting of the association in December, a motion was put forward by districts and subsequently adopted as official policy of the association, seeking the abolition of a loophole in the liquor licensing law created by section 4 of the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979. That section allows liquor to be sold in bulk as a wholesale transaction without the need for any particular form of licensing control of the premises concerned.

The letter stated:
"In this respect many garage forecourts are supplying bulk amounts of alcohol to motorists and general shoppers, which the Association feels is in direct conflict with the duty of the police to reduce drinking and driving, apart from any other reasons to tighten up control over this kind of outlet."
The House will be aware that police superintendents are senior field officers and their view should not be taken lightly.

Would my right hon. Friend care to explain the problem that might be encountered at hypermarkets, where the sale of petrol is undertaken on the same premises where food and alcoholic drinks are also for sale?

At this late hour I am not prepared to go into detail. All I will say is that the principle enshrined in my clause should commend itself to all hon. Members. However, I am not prepared to be diverted.

I will not give way because Mr. Speaker clearly wants the business to move on.

The arguments in favour of the clause are straightforward. First, given the large number of outlets for alcohol that now exist, it can hardly be claimed that sales from petrol stations are necessary for the convenience of the customer. Secondly, sales from petrol stations are totally and inherently inconsistent with the whole aim, purpose and direction of national policy against drinking and driving.

I am not in a position to claim that alcohol sales from petrol stations have led directly to drink-drive accidents because if that were the case it would not be apparent from the official statistics. However, the fact is that alcohol sales from petrol stations give entirely the wrong message. The whole purpose of the Department of Transport's campaign is rightly to dissociate drinking from driving and driving from drinking. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) understands that.

The codes of advertising practice—albeit voluntary—prohibit the association of drinking with driving in advertisements. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how an actual physical association between the two activities can be justified. Motorway service areas are, of course, already prohibited from selling alcohol.

It may be argued that my new clause is unwarranted because there is no essential difference between driving off having stacked up the boot of one's care with alcohol bought at a local supermarket and doing the same thing with alcohol bought at the petrol station. I submit, however, that there is a fundamental distinction between the two cases. The function of legislation is not merely to affect behaviour in an immediate direct sense; in a democratic society such as ours, legislation also has an educational function. It is an important way in which our society makes a statement to the effect that some way of behaviour is unacceptable.

Granting licences to petrol stations makes exactly the opposite statement to the one we wish to make. By definition, the essential aim and purpose of petrol stations, unlike supermarkets, is to serve motorists. The idea of serving motorists with alcohol is anathema to everything that the Department of Transport is trying to accomplish through its campaigns and publicity.

The passage of the new clause will cause little, if any, significant inconvenience to the public and, indeed, strengthening the arm of the licensing benches to refuse inappropriate applications for licences from premises, the primary purpose of which is to serve drivers, would meet with the approval of the great majority of the public and those responsible for safety on our roads. I commend the new clause to the House.

Many of the considerations that apply to motorway service stations also apply to the new clause. The particular problem of hypermarkets could be solved by the words "primary purpose" or "ancillary to" if there were an appropriate qualification. I hope that at least the principle of the new clause commends itself to the Minister.

The House would like to express its thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) and to the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) for the brief, clear way in which they have advanced the argument. There are three reasons why I cannot commend the new clause to the House.

First, the general powers which enable justices to refuse licences are sufficient. That probably explains why there are only about 150 garages with off-licence facilities.

The second reason relates to the problem of hypermarkets. Hon. Members will know of the increasing tendency for out-of-town supermarkets and hypermarkets to sell both alcohol and petrol. One cannot honestly say that that was mistaken. If we follow the route of the hon. Member for Swansea, East, we shall reach every kind of complexity.

Thirdly, in some—not many—small rural areas local stores sell groceries, alcohol and petrol. They serve a local need and it would be wrong to stop them. For those reasons, I cannot commend the new clause.

Question put and negatived.