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Commons Chamber

Volume 170: debated on Friday 20 April 1990

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House Of Commons

Friday 20 April 1990

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Orders Of The Day

Licensing (Low Alcohol Drinks) Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Clause 1

Low Alcohol Liquor Not To Be Intoxicating Liquor For The Purposes Of The Licensing Act 1964

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 1, line 6, leave out from '1964', to end of line 12 and insert

'for the words "not exceeding 1016 and of a strength not exceeding 1·2 per cent." there shall be substituted the words "not exceeding 1009 and of a strength not exceeding 0·5 per cent.".'.

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 1, in page 1, line 11, leave out '0·5 per cent.' and insert '0·05 per cent.'.

No. 9, in page 1, line 11, leave out '0·5 per cent.' and insert '0·1 per cent.'.

No. 10, in page 1, line 11, leave out '0·5 per cent.' and insert '1·2 per cent.'.

No. 2, in page 1, line 11, leave out 'cent.' to end of line 12.

No. 3, in page 1, line 12, leave out from 'sale' to end.

No. 4, in page 1, line 16, at end insert
'at the time of the sale or other conduct in question'.

After that enthusiastic reception, may I apologise first to you, Mr. Speaker, and secondly to my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) for the fact that I shall be unable to stay for the whole of the debate? However, I am grateful for this opportunity to speak to the amendments that stand in my name.

One of the effects of the otherwise excellent Bill that has been promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton is that it will make it very much easier to obtain low-alcohol liquor outside the context of licensed premises. My amendment would bring the Bill back into line with the Licensing Act 1964, but with a reduction to 0·5 per cent. alcohol and its corresponding level of specific gravity. I am most reliably informed by a professor of physics, since I have no knowledge of physics whatsoever, that that is 1009 deg Gay Lussac. I have tried to accommodate my hon. Friend by incorporating the reductions he suggests, but I have also tried to bring back within the scope of the Licensing Act all sales of low-alcohol drinks, wherever such sales take place.

If the Bill is not amended, it will be possible to obtain that which is classified as non-intoxicating liquor—but which can in fact contain an alcohol level of 0·4 per cent., or even 0·49 per cent. —outside licensed premises. Alcoholic drinks of that kind would therefore be available to children if they were sold in unlicensed premises. According to the Bill, drinks with an alcohol content of below 0·5 per cent. will be available in all sorts of premises which do not have to be licensed to sell alcohol.

A child will understand only one thing: here is some excitement, here is a drink with some alcohol in it. Unfortunately, due to the efforts of our advertising industry and the image projected by the drinks indusitry, children are inclined to think that there is something glamorous, grown-up and desirable about a drink with alcohol in it. If, therefore, alcoholic drinks are readily available—perhaps with an alcoholic content of only 0·1 per cent., although it could be as high as 0·4 per cent. —children will have access to them.

We know that the problem of under-age drinking and the crimes associated with it are increasing. Therefore, it would be ill-advised for my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) to leave in an otherwise commendable Bill a loophole that would promote under-age drinking. If the Bill were enacted in its present form, teenagers and fairly young children of perhaps nine or 10 would learn to consume alcohol and, what is infinitely worse, taking it for granted.

Unlike an adult, a child cannot reasonably be expected to compute the sum of the drinks that he or she is consuming and work out the likely effect. The child will think that it is fun and exciting to consume alcohol, but that it will do no harm because it is low alcohol. But if a child consumes five or six drinks which contain only 0·4 per cent. alcohol and are therefore deemed low-alcohol, and not dangerous, he will have taken in a fair quantity of intoxicating liquor.

There are obvious dangers to a child or a young teenager whose constitution has not developed sufficiently to absorb that. If alcohol becomes a habit and children treat such drinks as if they were Coca Cola or orangeade, they will gradually develop an alcohol habit, however low. The mood of our legislation, all that the Home Office has said in recent years and certainly the social perception are that we should move in the opposite direction and encourage young people not to form a drink habit.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem of alcohol is just as relevant in Northern Ireland, and does she join me in regretting that the Bill does not seem to apply to Northern Ireland?

I absolutely support what my hon. Friend says. I might well have mentioned that point, but, as my hon. Friend feels strongly about the issue, he may wish to touch on it later.

If low-alcohol drinks are available they affect the problem of drink driving. At present, the law is fairly clear. If one visits licensed premises and drinks more than a low quantity of alcohol, if one is driving one is likely to be over the limit and guilty of a criminal offence.

Further to the intervention by my hon. Friend for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) has my hon. Friend noticed that clause 1 does not apply to Scotland, but that clause 2 does? Does she not find that an extraordinary anomaly? In tune with what my hon. Friend said about Northern Ireland, should that not be addressed at this stage so that we can do something about it?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the anomaly applies to Northern Ireland and to Scotland.

To avoid any wrong assumptions, we should be clear that, as is so often the case, the law in England is different from that in Scotland, so it was necessary to table an amendment to part II of the Bill to deal with the law in Scotland, while the amendment in part I of the Bill deals with the law in England. It is my intention that the two clauses achieve the same legal definitions and legal structure in England and in Scotland. As my hon. Friends from Scotland are nodding in agreement, I am glad that I am giving the House the right information.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his explanation and his clarification of the part of his Bill that applies to Scotland. Without meaning any offence to my hon. Friends from Scotland, drink is a considerable problem in Scotland.

I must ask my hon. Friend to withdraw that comment. I spent Easter in Scotland, and I can assure my hon. Friend that I saw no excess of alcohol. My hon. Friend is clearly referring to what prevailed in Scotland 10, 15 or 20 years ago, when one could find a drunk at Glasgow central station at any time of the day or night. Following the changes in the Scottish licensing law and the civilisation of Scottish public houses, it is no longer true that one can find drunks at any time of the day or night. Scotland is not the alcoholic country that my hon. Friend envisages. She does a disservice to the good people of Scotland.

I, too, spent Easter in Scotland and it was most enjoyable and pleasant. I did not spend my Easter on Glasgow central station, so I have no idea whether the level of drunkenness to be observed there has changed. I did not mean to impugn the Scots or to suggest that they uniquely have an alcohol problem. I merely said, —presumably my words are on record in Hansard—that there is a drink problem in Scotland. There is also a drink problem in England and in most of Europe.

9.45 am

Let me add to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South. My experience in Scotland is entirely the opposite of what my hon. Friend suggests. Every summer I spend the short amount of time that I allow myself to spend away from my constituency in the north-east of Scotland. Staying near Tain on Easter Ross, I found it extremely difficult to find a drink at all. One has to travel so far to find a drink, that I spent much of my short holiday there drinking low-alcohol drinks and canned beer that I had brought with me from England. I found Scotland to be an extremely abstemious place where it was difficult to get a drink.

I am being extremely generous in giving way, so perhaps before I give way again perhaps I can answer my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell).

Once again, he has misunderstood what I said. I did not suggest that there was an undue level of drunkeness in Scotland compared with anywhere else. I am sorry that he had a problem finding a drink during his Scottish holiday. I took the precaution of staying on licensed premises. I must admit that I did not see any signs of excessive drunkeness. I said that there is a drink problem in Scotland, as there is in England and the rest of Europe.

I would normally be in Scotland on Fridays, except when there are matters in the House that affect Scotland, as the Bill does, and I was on the Committee that considered the Bill. My hon. Friend was referring to the problem of under-age, drinking which is a matter of great concern. She is quite correct to say that there is such a problem, but I would remind her that 90 per cent. of Scotch whisky, which is Scotland's most famous export, is exported and not drunk by the Scots. I am a teetotaller. I do not drink it at all.

Order. I think that we have established that there is no undue drink problem in Scotland.

Perhaps I can conclude the discussion of the drink problem in Scotland by apologising unreservedly if I have offended any of my hon. Friends. I did not intend any slur on the Scots.

Before my hon. Friends intervened, I was referring to drink driving. If one visits licensed premises and consumes intoxicating liquor, one knows that one must limit one's consumption severely, if one must drink at all. I should favour a law which prevents people from driving after drinking any amount of alcohol, but the present law requires only that one should severely limit the amount of alcohol one drinks. That is fairly easy to compute, and is readily understood.

If low alcohol liquor is outwith the licensing laws, the temptation will be to confuse it with alcohol-free liquor and that because one is drinking something that is only 0·3 or 0·4 per cent. proof one is not consuming alcohol. Someone may be tempted to have two drinks in a public house, which should be sufficient, and instead of drinking orange juice or lemonade to think "I will be safe because this is so entirely innocuous that it need not be licensed." He therefore consumes a drink that is so low in alcohol that it has been removed from the licensing laws. That is dangerous, and I suspect that many people may take that incremental amount of alcohol when they would normally stop because they have been deluded by the licensing laws into thinking, "This is not really alcohol at all, is it?" That is my fundamental objection.

Combining what I was saying about children and drivers drinking, and about low-alcohol drinks not being subject to the licensing laws, there will be official guidance saying, "You needn't worry about this; it isn't really alcohol." People will take their cue from that. If we are to ensure that children do not have ready access to drink, and that drivers are not deluded into thinking that a low-alcohol drink will do no harm, society and the law must lay down extremely clearly that it is intoxicating liquor, that it is subject to the licensing laws and that it is available only at licensed premises.

If society does not give that guidance, it is understandable that people will tend to think that it does not matter how much low-alcohol drink they consume, that it cannot be habit-forming because its strength is so low and that it does not matter, because if it did matter and if it was habit-forming, surely the law would require a licence to be granted. That is the mentality with which many people will approach the liberalising proposals in the Bill.

My hon. Friend is raising spectres that worry me. I do not want people in licensed premises to be deluded into drinking low-alcohol beer, driving their motor cars, being breathalysed and losing their licences. Has she made any estimates of how much low-alcohol beer an average man, who legally can drink almost two pints of full-strength beer, will have to consume to be over the limit? How many pints of low-alcohol beer would have to be consumed to put that man near the limit?

It is proposed to reduce the requirement from 1·2 to less than 0·5 per cent. Assuming that the man was drinking a 0·4 per cent. strength drink, he would have to drink about three times as much as intoxicating liquor. If he were drinking low-alcohol beer as if it were lemonade or bitter lemon—one can drink six or seven of those drinks without realising it—he would be gradually consuming the equivalent of one pint of beer or one measure of spirit.

The prospect that alarms my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page), of people losing their licence, is not the most terrifying one. The most terrifying prospect is of people getting behind the wheel of a car when not in a fit state and causing accidents and deaths. It is more desirable that they should lose their licences as a sharp warning than be allowed to cause accidents.

I say again—I am well aware that it is outwith the scope of the Bill and that I would be called to order if I developed the point—that it is high time that we had a rule preventing people from driving when they have consumed any alcohol. That is the only way to guarantee safety.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the nomenclature of different beers can confuse prospective purchasers? The word "light" has been misinterpreted many times. A court found special reasons for not disqualifying a person who was over the limit because he had been informed that a beer was low in alcohol because it was called light beer. Does my hon. Friend think that there is a need for much caution, particularly among brewers, in the names given to beers, which may or may not be low-alcohol?

I agree with my hon. Friend and I am grateful to him for making that point. There is massive confusion, which will be compounded if certain forms of alcohol, which undeniably are alcohol but have a low content, are not subject to the licensing laws. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) raises an important gap in our approach to drink; that is in education. People should understand what they are purchasing and consuming. It is unlikely that they will if a licence is not necessary to sell certain forms of alcohol.

Imagine trying to explain to a child that all alcohol is dangerous, is potentially habit-forming, should be avoided when one is driving, has some effect on the brain cells and does this, that or the other. The child would say, "If that is so, why don't you need a licence to sell low-alcohol drinks? Surely it can't be dangerous, and can't be alcohol." The mentality that worries me, which would grow under these proposals, is: "This is not really alcohol, is it?" If it can be purchased only on licensed premises and is subject to the licensing laws, it will be regarded more as alcohol and as having all the potential dangers of higher alcohol drinks.

Education is important. I can well understand someone consuming light beer thinking that it is something to do with its light content. Such confusion is rife in our alcohol laws.

I am listening carefully to the hon. Lady, and I agree with most of her arguments. I hope that she will be a little hesitant about the nomenclature of beers. There are traditions in this country on what we call beers, which are respected and well-known. To start talking about light beers as alcohol-free is pushing it a little. There is a tradition of what we call bitter, mild and all the other lovely names that British beers have. I hope that she is not suggesting some EEC mentality about what we must call different British beers. I should like to know when I am drinking a non-alcohol beer, but we must be cautious. I and most hon. Members know what a light ale is.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I represent a hop-growing area, where the EEC mentality definitely is not the flavour of the month. It would be hard for me, even should I want to do so, to make a case for introducing further legislation to assault well-established British institutions.

I was saying—if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, it is reasonable to say so—that people are confused. He may be well up in the traditions of British beers, but I am not. He may understand the description of every beer on offer, but many people, particularly first-time drinkers, do not and are confused by the terminology. I was proposing not that we should remove those terms but that there should be proper education. I was not proposing that we should amend our laws and start trying to standardise descriptions—I would not do anything so dull or dreary —but there is a strong argument for proper education.

I am particularly worried, as I have made clear throughout the debate on the amendment, about under-age drinkers. People going into public houses and learning the traditions of beers for the first time, or going into supermarkets and purchasing alcohol, do not have the benefit of the knowledge of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), and could be confused. That is an argument for education, and I sincerely hope that he did not think that I was proposing to become legislative, because my line has always been that we should reduce, rather than increase, legislation.

10 am

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way with her usual courtesy and for the frequency with which she has done so. She mentioned the problem of under-age drinking resulting from individuals going into supermarkets, does she not think that it is an unfortunate social trend that, whereas 20 years ago it was almost impossible to buy cans of drink in supermarkets, it is now far too easy for far too many young people to do so?

It is perhaps one of the most regrettable social trends that we have seen, but at least if a supermarket sells alcohol it must have a licence to do so, and as long as the definition of alcohol covers even those of low alcohol content, such drinks must be licensed. My big worry about the Bill is that a group of alcoholic drinks will be taken out of that requirement for a licence and will therefore be available in supermarkets and other shops that do not have to have a licence to sell alcohol.

It is terribly important that we are clear about the argument that my hon. Friend is advancing. My Bill strengthens what she wants. It will stop beers or any alcoholic drink between 0·5 per cent. and the present level of alcohol being sold in shops or elsewhere. Therefore, I hope that, if my Bill is passed, it will meet my hon. Friend's arguments. I am delighted to hear her propose them because they strengthen, rather than weaken, the Bill.

They would strengthen the Bill if it went as far as my amendment proposes, which is to take into account also those alcoholic drinks below the 0·5 per cent. level. I am grateful, as ever, for my hon. Friend's intervention and his clarification.

I am worried that children will be able to consume 0·1, 0·2, 0·3 and 0·4 per cent. alcoholic drinks freely, without having to buy them from premises with a licence. They will have no idea of the build-up effect and will form a drink habit. They will not understand that such alcohol, in cumulative quantities, affects the brains and organs in the same way as high-level alcohol in smaller quantities. Those children will be affected if the Bill goes through unamended.

I am worried about adults who will be lured into thinking that what they are drinking is not alcohol and will therefore think that it is safe to drink it in addition to what they have already allowed themselves before driving. I am worried that, if a range of alcoholic drinks appears saleable without a licence, it will be regarded, in general, as not really alcohol, and the social problems of drinking will not be solved by these proposals.

Therefore, I propose what, I admit is a draconian amendment. It is right and in the social interest, and before the Bill reaches the statute book, I commend my hon. Friend at least to think about whether it needs strengthening. It is likely to be on the statute book for a long time, and its social effects are likely to be far-reaching.

The hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) has done a considerable service to the young people of this country in bringing forward his proposals. I wish them well.

The hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) wondered if the Scots took offence at what she was saying. This Scot takes no offence because, in candour, there is a problem, and those who do not recognise that would be deluding themselves. There was some banter about the position in Scotland. I was taken aback and appalled to be taken by the police in my constituency, in the early hours of the morning, to the Bathgate town centre to see the amount of drink being taken by people who, if they were not under age, were nearly under age.

My contribution has one purpose: to ask the hon. Member for Honiton to outline the contact that he has had with various Scottish authorities, because he has worked on this issue. As a Member of Parliament, it behoves me to say, bluntly, that I am not an expert on licensing and I do not pretend to be so, but it is an important issue. Therefore, I should like the hon. Gentleman to outline the contacts he has had with the various Scottish organisations, not least those representing the trade, which has a problem involving under-age drinking. How does one tell how old people are, if they are not familiar when they come into a licensed premises or a supermarket? It is easy, particularly with girls, to confuse 13 and 18-year-olds in good faith. That is part of the under-age problem.

I support the Bill and look forward to hearing from the hon. Gentleman about the Scottish contacts that he has had.

I join the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) on his excellent Bill. It has been drafted with the care which has characterised my hon. Friend's parliamentary career. It came as no surprise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, just as it came as no surprise to the Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household, that the Committee stage of the Bill began at 10.30 am and lasted for less than half an hour. The Committee rose at 10.42 am on 28 February. That is one of the shortest Committee stages in the history of this place.

In view of the subject we are discussing, should that fact not be entered in "The Guinness Book of Records"?

I said that it was one of the shortest Committee stages in the records of this place. The conclusion I drew from that was that the Standing Committee, composed of formidable intellects, decided that the Bill should receive not one amendment in Committee. That is a tribute to the draftsmanship of my hon. Friend and the intellect of those who served on the Committee.

I wish to remind my hon. Friends, some of whom are not familiar with these important matters, of the formidable intellects who adorned the Committee. First, my hon. Friend—

No doubt this is interesting, but it is a long way from the matters before the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The amendments deal with variations on the definition of intoxicating liquor, and I hope that we can get back to that.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I had the privilege of serving on that Committee, and I have never in this House been called a formidable intellect. I was looking forward to the opportunity of being described as such by my hon. Friend, and I would be grateful if he could be given the chance to do so.

Order. We are not debating amendments about the hon. Gentleman's intellect.

We are discussing the level of alcohol in drink. Neither my hon. Friend the Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household nor I would claim to be an expert on low-alcohol drinks. From time to time, my hon. Friend the Comptroller has summoned me to his own house for consultations. When I receive a summons from my hon. Friend, I naturally obey and the summonses are always for the hour of noon. At that very moment, my hon. Friend takes bottles from the cupboard. Are those bottles filled with low-alcohol drinks? They are not. Indeed, although I have frequently been my hon. Friend's guest over many years, there has not been one occasion when he has offered me a low-alcohol drink. That may underline the need for the Bill and the validity of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), whose arrival in this place we welcomed, although we deplored the departure of her predecessor.

I want to remind the House of another important event a moment ago, which passed unnoticed even by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery). For a short period of the debate, seated side by side on the Treasury Bench were the Comptroller of the Household and the Treasurer of the Household. I and my hon. Friend the Comptroller know that my hon. Friend the Treasurer—like my hon. Friend who sometimes wears a kilt, the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker)—is a non-drinker, or teetotaller. I do not think that one would describe my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone as a teetotaller.

Although neither my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone nor I am addicted to low-alcohol drinks, we are still entitled to a view on the Bill. I see that my hon. Friend the Comptroller assents to that proposition.

There is merit in amendment No. 8. I shall be listening with the closest attention—

My hon. Friend referred to our hon. Friends the Treasurer and the Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household. My hon. Friend the Treasurer would regard amendment No. 8 with grave misgivings, because he regards low alcohol as being as bad as any amount of alcohol. He believes in non-alcohol. If we had been able to debate new clause 2, as well as amendment No. 8, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone would have had the opportunity to draw a distinction between non-alcohol and low-alcohol. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) is not wholly correct when he describes the attitude to the amendment of our hon. Friend the Treasurer. Our hon. Friend would be utterly opposed to the amendment, because it refers to low alcohol, whereas he believes in non-alcoholic drinks.

I hope that our hon. Friend the Treasurer will be in his place later this morning.

But he was not on the Treasury Bench. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) will ask our hon. Friend the Treasurer to come in to clarify the point himself. I shall add only that I have been the recipient of the most generous—not to say munificent—hospitality at the hands not only of my hon. Friend the Comptroller, but of my hon. Friend the Treasurer. You may be rather shocked to hear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have received only full alcoholic strength drinks when I have had luncheon or dinner at the house of my hon. Friend the Treasurer. I have even been summoned for cocktails at the agreeable residence of my hon. Friend the Treasurer. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) is not leaving the Chamber, as I was about to refer to him.

As well as referring to our hon. Friends the Treasurer and the Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household, my hon. Friend referred to our hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North has had to slip out of the Chamber to take part in a television programme—I do not know whether it is on the Bill—but I can reassure my hon. Friend that he is coming back.

10.15 am

I have heard the hon. Gentleman make some excellent speeches in this Chamber. However, as I sit listening to his present speech, I wonder quite what the recounting of the munificent, wonderful and abundant hospitality received in various places in and around the House has to do with this serious Bill.

This is only the preamble; I shall he coming to more detailed aspects of the Bill later.

One important truth may have escaped even my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Today is the anniversary of the birth of his late imperial majesty, Emperor Napoleon III of France. Why do I mention that? [HON. MEMBERS: "Brandy."] That is the point. I do not want to be discourteous to the imperial household of a friendly power, but it is said that the Emperor Napoleon III died as a result of overdoing the brandy. I do not say that the allegation is true. Even the solitary representative of Her Majesty's Opposition. the shadow Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), seems to assent to the proposition that his late majesty may have died of an overdose of brandy. If the Bill had been on the statute book during the lifetime of his late majesty, he might still have been with us.

I know that Queen Mary died with "Calais" written on her heart. Is my hon. Friend suggesting that, if the Bill had been on the statute book at the time of the reign of Napoleon III, we should have tried to apply it to France? We should have had to have extra-territorial powers, which no British Government have claimed for a long time.

Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) will now seek to address himself to the amendment. He has been speaking for 11 minutes and I doubt whether he has yet referred to the amendment. Will he please do so or resume his seat?

You will have studied the text of the amendments with the same care as I have, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe that we are discussing the group of amendments Nos. 8, 1, 9, 10, 2, 3, and 4. Some of them have been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), the parliamentary private secretary to our hon. Friend the Minister for Industry. Those amendments relate to the strength of alcohol and how we should describe the alcoholic strength. I had great sympathy with amendment No. 8, which was moved so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone.

I want to go back to the point about territoriality and the question whether the Bill applies outside our shores. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) is on to an extremely good point here. As I hope to demonstrate in my speech, if I catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there is considerable confusion about the way in which EC directives apply on low alcohol here and in other countries in Europe. It is impossible to divorce the laws that we pass in the House, which affect this country, from the decisions and directives made by the European Community and their effect upon the definition and distribution of low-alcohol drinks, not only here but throughout Europe.

My hon. Friend anticipates a point that I had intended to address later in my speech. I shall be referring to the European Commission. I shall also refer to the former right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks., who used to be Home Secretary and then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, before his regrettable departure from the Treasury Bench. I shall be referring to the Commission, because the amendment would include in the Bill the words

"not exceeding 1009"—
Hon. Members will note the little nought above the figure—
"and of a strength not exceeding 0·5 per cent."
Those are very important words. I wonder—as does my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton—whether, if we include those words, the Commission in Brussels will apply its mind to the question whether we are acting in accordance with Community law. We do not want to make the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone only to discover that the Commission proposes to overrule us.

I had some difficulty with the little nought to which my hon. Friend referred, but my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) tells me that it means specific gravity.

The little nought does, indeed, mean specific gravity, and in this case 1009 is 0·5 per cent. and 1016 is to 1·2 per cent.

I know that I can rely on my hon. Friend the Treasurer of the Household to instruct me in specific gravity. We warmly welcome the Treasurer, who is already in his weekend attire. For those in the Whips Office, the weekend begins early, while some of us have to man the barricades and do the best we can to understand specific gravity and all sorts of other problems. My hon. Friend the Treasurer will be able to comment later on the extent to which he favours my hon. Friend's amendment.

This is a momentous occasion: we now have the Treasurer and the Comptroller seated side by side, with a Lords Commissioner sitting even closer to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have a kind of Trinity on the Treasury Bench. I shall not lay myself open to the charge of blasphemy by trying to describe their different roles. In the centre is the Treasurer and on either side are his guardians. It is the Treasurer to whom we referred earlier in the debate, and who will continue to feature prominently because, along with my hon. Friend the Member with the kilt, he opposes the consumption of alcohol. I am sure that both my hon. Friends will be in favour of the amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone made a moving speech. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who has made a journey to Scotland, agreed with my hon. Friend. What we do not know—we all await the answer with some expectation, and my hon. Friend the Member for Gelding—

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling is son to his father. I noted that, during an earlier intervention, my hon. Friend used the word "Ireland". He did not mean that; he meant "Northern Ireland". If I rebuke him it is because his father served as Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department also served at the Northern Ireland Office, did he not?

Yes, he was a Parliamentary Private Secretary. We ought not to refer to Ireland. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling knows very well, there was a meeting of the Anglo-Irish Conference yesterday, and this afternoon the Prime Minister of the Irish Republic, who has made a journey from Dublin, is to wait on the Prime Minister.

I stand rebuked for using the wrong terminology earlier. Let me offer my hon. Friend this deal: if he will forgive me for describing Northern Ireland inaccurately, I shall forgive him for inaccurately describing my constituency.

I apologise to my hon. Friend. I transposed the letters d and 1. Perhaps my hon. Friend will table an early-day motion recording my apology.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, with his customary charm and courtesy. He referred to the Anglo-Irish Conference and the fact that the Prime Minister of Ireland has made a journey from Ireland to the United Kingdom. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is most unfortunate that a number of criminals have not made that journey?

Order. We are supposed to be discussing specific amendments that are before the House. I have heard no direct reference to them for the past half hour, and I hope that the House will now address itself to them.

I was addressing myself in particular to amendment No. 8, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone. We have clarified matters so that we now know that the little nought above the figure 1009 refers to specific gravity. The key question is, should we insert the words? My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone wants the words inserted because she wants added protection to be given to teenagers; that was the burden of my hon. Friend's remarks.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow made a short intervention. In his short speech, he made his point more vividly than some people make theirs in longer speeches. I was impressed by the hon. Gentleman's intervention. The problems of under-age drinking and the difficulties in deciding whether a girl is 13 or 18 years old are not confined to Scotland: we have the same problems in Eastbourne, and it is a serious matter. I hope that later the hon. Member for Linlithgow will suggest how we might address ourselves more effectively to that problem.

Nothing is as likely to persuade hon. Members to make short speeches as the fact that they are responsible for business which could be talked out. If the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) is really so well disposed towards me this morning, perhaps he will bear it in mind that the third item on the Order Paper is my important private Member's Bill dealing with certain aspects of the Security Commission. I had hoped that perhaps my Bill might have the hon. Gentleman's blessing.

I have no wish to injure the glittering political career of the hon. Member for Linlithgow but I must tell him that I almost called him my hon. Friend, and I really think of him in those terms. I hope that that will not injure his prospects. I am aware—we are all students of these matters—of the business that is before the House. We are now discussing the Licensing (Low Alcohol Drinks) Bill. Incidentally. I tabled an amendment to shorten the title, because the titles of our Bills tend to be too long. I know that one must never ever criticise the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I regret that my amendment was not selected. Perhaps it is no criticism of the Chair to express one's regret.

I want to come back to amendment No. 8. Other amendments are grouped with it, but it deals with the key issue. Do we change the wording of the Bill? If we do, will that help to protect young people who are led astray in the way that my hon. Friend described?

There is real merit in amendment No. 8. Whether my hon. Friend will press it to a Division I do not know. I assume that, after contributions from others of my hon. Friends—I do not think that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) can speak again—we shall all listen with bated breath to the first of today's speeches by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), because he will advise the House whether to accept the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone. If my hon. Friend should advise against her amendment, I do not know whether she will press it to a Division. Only time will tell.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone will press her amendment to a Division. We could even vote on amendments Nos. 1, 9, 10, 2, 3 and 4, some of which stand in the name of the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Under-Secretary of State.

10.30 am

Can I advise my hon. Friend that, were my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone to press her amendment to a Division, I would most emphatically oppose it? I would recommend to the House and urge upon my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, the sponsor of the Bill, support for my amendment No. 1 instead.

If, during the course of the day, I should catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall urge upon the House the merits of amendment No. 1, rather than amendment No. 8, which is an alternative to that amendment.

The House is a little puzzled by some of the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, because they do not make reference to the specific gravity problem.

I am grateful that my hon. Friend has given way a third time. Further to the comments by the parliamentary private secretary to the Minister for Industry, were the amendments to be put to a vote I would also emphatically, although apologetically, oppose the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone, and would urge the House to support my amendment No. 10 which, if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall seek to suggest to the House is worthy of serious consideration.

My hon. Friend has overlooked an important point. His amendment does not address the question of specific gravity either. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone was kind enough to explain to me what that little nought meant. At least I admitted to my ignorance on that matter. Of course, my hon. Friend the Comptroller is an expert in specific gravity—I am told that he wrote a treatise on the subject—so there was no need to give such information to him. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, knew at once what that little nought meant. It was only I who was unable to follow it. It perplexes me why none of the other amendments refer to specific gravity. The scholarship of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone made her refer to specific gravity in her amendment; that is why, despite interventions by some of my hon. Friends, I prefer Maidstone to Brigg.

Surely it is not surprising that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone is so expert in these matters. After all, Maidstone is in the centre of Kent, which is the hop-growing county of England. Therefore one would expect representatives from a hop-growing county, including my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), to—

Order. I have a duty to the House and to all those other hon. Members who are awaiting an opportunity to present and argue the case for their Bills. Twenty more Bills are waiting to be dealt with, and I hope that hon. Members will have some sense of their responsibility and obligation towards the other hon. Members who are waiting for the House to deal with their Bills.

As I said in an earlier intervention, I tabled amendment No. I before the Easter recess and I should like to recommend consideration of it. Since I tabled it I have been in correspondence with Guinness plc regarding the amendment. The manager of public affairs, Mr. Mark Leverton, wrote to me as follows:

"I have been sitting on your Christmas card for months …I have heard about your promotion from the Back Benches…I would like to take this opportunity to point out that we seem to have common interests in the Licensing (Low Alcohol Drinks) Bill. I see that you have tabled various amendments at the report stage and it might be of interest and advantage for you to know that over the last 12 months Guinness has been trying to persuade the Home Office"
and subsequently my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery)
"that 0·5 per cent. is too high as a definition of intoxicating liquor for the purposes of sale in unlicensed outlets. We have not of course been successful."

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so early in his speech. I want to refer to what he has just said about 0·5 per cent., because I was sorry not to have the opportunity to respond to the last issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) on specific gravity. I would like the House to address, I was about to say the gravity of this issue, but that is not quite what I had in mind. It is a most important matter. The specific gravity refers to what happens in the process of producing the alcohol, and that is ignored in amendment No. 1. Under my proposal, if, in the process of making the alcohol, specific gravity rises to higher than 1009 degrees, it is very intoxicating. My amendment tries to link the final product with the process so that there is no stage at which highly intoxicating liquor is produced as a by-product. Does my hon. Friend intend to address the important problem of degrees of specific gravity?

Yes, and it is for that reason that my hon. Friend's amendment is unnecessary. Were we to pass amendment No. 8 it would have no effect on the Bill, as it seeks only to define; but amendment No. 1 seeks to change the Bill. In line 11 of the Bill we see the figure 0·5 per cent. by volume of alcohol. I wish to delete 0·5 per cent. and insert 0·05 per cent. Therefore, my amendment will have a major effect on the Bill.

I have a suspicion that my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) will be unable to accept my amendment at this stage. However I hope that he may be more favourably disposed by the time I have finished my speech.

I have known Mr. Mark Leverton for many years. I sent a Christmas card to him and received one from him. He is the manager of the public affairs department at Guinness and in the last sentence of the third paragraph of his letter he said, in relation to his efforts to persuade the Home Office and my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton:
"We have not of course been successful and I note that one of your amendments relates to this point. In view of this I am attaching a note which I have prepared which I hope will be helpful to the debate on 20 April … I should also point out that we were put on the spot"—
by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton—
"who accepted our concern, in general terms."
My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton is a reasonable man. I find it reassuring to know that he has addressed the concerns expressed by Guinness about my amendment. However, at the end of the day my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton chose to ignore those concerns. He wrote 0·5 per cent., not 0·05 per cent., into his Bill.

It is fair to say that Guinness would be happy with half a loaf if it cannot have the whole loaf. I have no doubt that Guinness would prefer to see the Bill enacted rather than for it to fail. However, Guinness has made it clear that it would prefer 0·05 per cent. rather than 0·5 per cent. in clause 1. Mr. Leverton continues in his letter:
"Naturally we chose the former"—
that is, 0·05 per cent.—
"but we were not particularly happy about it.
You may also know that definitions of 'alcohol free' and low alcohol' are under some threat from Brussels, which is likely to complicate matters."
Although I make no criticism of the Chair's selection, I had hoped that we could have addressed the issue of alcohol free and low alcohol as distinct from non-alcoholic and separate from de-alcoholised. We could have considered that under new clause 2. However, I believe that in the context of amendment No. 1 it is relevant for the House to consider the distinction between low-alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks because my amendment seeks to bring us closer to the non-alcoholic position.

My hon. Friend has come to the nub of the difference. In introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) is trying to introduce a practical aspect rather than a theoretical one. In response to an intervention, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) said that there was something in existing law like a 3:1 ratio of the amount of drink one must consume to reach a specific alcohol level. That is highly dangerous and could be confusing. The Bill as presently drafted reduces that figure to the extent that if a man went into a pub he would have to drink about 15 pints of low-alcohol beer at 0·5 per cent. to reach the same alcohol level.

I suggest that amendment No. 1 moves us into the realms of—dare I say it—the ridiculous. A man would have to drink 150 pints of beer at the low alcohol level suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) in amendment No. 1 to have the same practical effect. Surely we are concerned with practice rather than theory.

Clearly my hon. Friend has not studied the issue seriously. Guinness, as a responsible company, would not have invited me to table amendment No. 1 and offered me its full support if it believed that this was just an esoteric or theoretical discussion. My hon. Friend has not had an opportunity to read the study carried out by Professor Li Wan Po, whom we all know is at the department of pharmacy at Queen's university, Belfast. He has studied the effects on the human body of the consumption of quantities of alcohol at 0·5 per cent. by volume. I am sure that my hon. Friend will realise that his comments were completely untrue. I will show that it is possible to get very drunk, very quickly by consuming relatively low volumes of alcohol in so-called low-alcohol beer.

I have very grave misgivings about low-alcohol beer. Like the Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household, I believe that if we are to talk about low-alcohol beer, we should be honest and talk about non-alcoholic beer. I will consider the non-alcoholic beer products that are threatened by the Bill.

Guinness has also corresponded with other hon. Members. Those of us who want to get this point right want to be clear about the issue without talking about the Government Whips Office ad nauseam.

I believe that the Guinness case is as follows; someone may believe that he can normally drink one and a half pints of beer and still drive safely. That is something that many of our citizens still believe. If that person then switches to low-alcohol beer at 0·5 per cent., he can quickly become a drunk driver. If he were to switch to 0·05 per cent. beer, that danger would not exist. That is the crunch. I have been waiting with great interest to hear what the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) has to say about that.

10.45 am

The hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head. That is precisely why I tabled the amendment.

A very serious point is at issue here. I believe that no motorist should consume alcohol before sitting at the wheel of a car. However, for better or for worse, legislation has permitted a motorist to consume a certain amount of alcohol to a level beyond which it is illegal for a motorist to climb into his car and drive it away. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) has outlined the problem about which Guinness is concerned and which prompted its support for my amendment.

It is possible for someone to go into a public house and consume up to two and a half pints of beer of full, normal alcoholic strength and then decide that he is near to the limit. He may then decide to change from beer of full alcoholic strength to low-alcohol beer. As I shall show in a moment from studies carried out by Professor Li Wan Po, it is possible for someone to switch to low-alcohol beer at 0·5 per cent. by volume as recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton in clause 1 and then climb into his car under the impression that he was driving safely within the limit. It is likely that that person would be over the limit and would fail a breathalyser test.

Although my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) made a persuasive speech, I believe that we should reject amendment No. 8 and consider amendment No. 1.

I will give way in a moment.

There is an industry concern. Companies like Guinness have successfully developed and marketed non-alcholic beers and drinks. I believe that that is the route that we should follow if we want to reduce the consumption of alcohol.

My hon. Friend spoke about the risks inherent when someone who intends to drive changes from a full-strength to a low-alcohol beer. We live in an imperfect world; is it not possible that an individual who was planning to drive would be prepared to transfer to a beer containing little alcohol at some point in the evening, but, if faced with the choice of transferring to a beer with negligible alcohol—as my hon. Friend proposes—might stick to the full-strength beer with which he started? It is not as simple as my hon. Friend suggests.

I think it is. Let me cite a product that I have had the opportunity of consuming with great pleasure. Kaliber is a beverage that contains not negligible amounts of alcohol but no alcohol whatever. We should be encouraging such products, but they have not been as successful in the past as I hope that they will be in the future because our legislation militates against their production. The taxation policy in our budgetary legislation has given a strong steer to consumers to buy unleaded petrol. Similarly, our taxation policy and any reforms that we make to the Licensing Act 1964 today should always err on the side of non-alcoholic beers rather than favouring alcoholic beers, whether of full, medium or low strength.

A Mr. Lisscomb, managing director of Guinness Brewing GB, sent a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton—and may have sent it to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and a number of my other hon. Friends who are taking part in the debate. The letter, which concerns my amendment, talks about the consequences of the existing legislation, which
"limits the availability of 'low alcohol' and 'alcohol-free' beers by making them available only in licensed premises. Section 201(1) of the Licensing Act 1964"
—which this Bill seeks to amend—
"stipulates that: any drink that has an alcoholic strength of 1·2 per cent. alcohol by volume or more must be sold through licensed premises. Moreover, any drink of less than that strength, but which was stronger at any time during its manufacture, must also he sold through licensed premises."

I accept that that is what my hon. Friend's Bill rightly seeks to change. I do not criticise what he is seeking to do with regard to the selling of low-alcohol beers in unlicensed premises; that is not the concern of my amendment, although it is the concern of his Bill. The letter continues:
"These criteria were formulated well before there was any demand or adequate technology to produce 'low alcohol' or 'alcohol-free' beers."

The debate on the Licensing Act 1964 was the last occasion on which we had the opportunity of considering this issue at some length, and with a certain amount of serious discussion on both sides of the House. That Act now guides the sale of alcohol in licensed or unlicensed premises; it has been on the statute book for 26 years. The amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton to it is the first of any significance that makes some reference to the new beers that were not on the market when the 1964 Act was framed.

In those days we were a nation without speed limits and without the breathalyser. Those of my hon. Friends who have been successful in the ballot for private Members' Bills have sensibly decided, now that the breathalyser puts so much pressure on the motorist, that it is proper for us to amend the 1964 Act.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He referred to Kaliber; does he agree that it is partly because of its success that we have reached a different phase in the market, and low alcoholic and non-alcohol beers are now being marketed heavily for reasons other than those connected with drink-driving?

My hon. Friend is probably right. The current position has resulted not only from the drink-driving legislation, but from the fact that today we are far more aware of the evils—including the social evils —of alcohol than we were in 1964; the greater concern that the public now have for their health; and the government's policy on preventive medicine. There has been a general and voluntary move away from alcohols of full strength to alcohols of low strength and non-alcoholic beers. It is generally acknowledged that there is much greater public demand arising naturally, notwithstanding the drink-driving legislation. I am prepared to concede my hon. Friend's point: we may agree on one point, although we disagree about the various reasons.

There is now the public demand and adequate technology to produce low-alcohol or alcohol-free beers and the past few years have seen the emergence of such beers. To be brief, I will use the jargon of the trade and refer to NABs, non-alcoholic beers, and LABs, low-alcoholic beers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) said, the consumer demand for such beers is growing rapidly.

NABs and LABs, the letter says,
"are important alternatives to the usual range of alcoholic drinks and give the consumer greater choice. They are particularly important in the context of the Government's strategy against alcohol abuse".

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will confirm that the Home Office accepts the anomalies that have been outlined by me, and by Guinness. It may not be possible for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to give me the information today—he may prefer to write to me —but I would like to know whether the ministerial group on alcohol misuse—I forget who chairs it now that my right hon. Friend the former Patronage Secretary has been transferred to the Department of Energy, but it involves several Government Departments—has had an opportunity to consider the Bill and my amendment. My amendment would certainly be in line with the group's concerns.

The ministerial group has welcomed the Bill as it stands.

I welcome that only as far as it goes. I would have expected my hon. Friend to go one stage further and say that the Committee would also welcome amendment No. 1 which goes in the direction of the objectives that the Committee has set itself. Nevertheless, I am glad to have my hon. Friend's assurance that at least that committtee has considered the Bill. It contains an anomaly. We are concerned that the Bill redefines intoxicating liquor as having no more than 0·5 per cent. alcohol. We have been talking about 0·;5 per cent. alcohol and about the alternative measurement of specific gravity. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne reprimanded me for not being precise in my amendment.

11 am

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is now 11 o'clock. May I ask whether you have had any request from Ministers for a statement on the alleged pressure on Customs from Government Departments not to prosecute firms in relation to the Iraqi gun export order? I have raised this matter with the responsible Treasury Minister, and he knows about it. Has there been any request for urgent clarification of the authority given to the Ministry of Defence press office to suggest that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) was less than clear in his warnings?

Order. I have not received any request for permission to make a statement to be made to the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask whether from now on—this is a matter of some importance—Members of Parliament giving warnings to Governments have to do it in—

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot say to the House what he might have had the opportunity to say following a statement.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has there been any request for a statement on when Ministry of Defence Ministers first knew about this matter? The question that I put last Wednesday—

Order. I have told the hon. Gentleman that I have not received any request for permission to make a statement of any kind whatsoever to the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was somewhat saddened to hear you say that, because I was wondering whether you had received any request to make a statement on the ever-worsening situation in Lithuania, which is a cause of—

I have told the House that I have not received any request for permission to make a statement of any kind whatsoever. Perhaps we can now get back to the business before the House.

It was suggested that one Government Department, the Department of Trade and Industry, is pointing a finger at another Government Department—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must realise that, if I allow him to make those comments, in all fairness I must allow other hon. Members to make comments on the same matter. I cannot allow that. We are debating a private Member's Bill. I call Mr. Brown.

As I was saying, the Bill redefines intoxicating liquor as having more than 0·5 per cent. alcohol. I was upbraided earlier for some lax draftsmanship in my amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne said that amendment No. 8 defines the terminology in terms of specific gravity. I used the term "0·5 per cent." We are talking about 0·5 per cent. alcohol by volume. I concede that I should have defined the term in my amendment. I assume that anybody taking a serious interest in the Bill—including my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne—would have readily understood that the alternative way of measuring alcohol is commonly referred to as 0·5 per cent. alcohol, and we normally understand that to mean alcohol by volume. I accept my hon. Friend's apologies.

If it is possible in the House of Lords, should my amendment be accepted, and should it be necessary for drafting purposes to redefine it, I should be willing to accept, perhaps, the addition of the words "by volume". I should have thought that it is such a small drafting amendment that if the other place were pleased to grant a Second Reading to the Bill it would be quite possible to add the words "by volume" to my amendment. I am prepared to accept my hon. Friend's injunction, but I am surprised that he. of all people—he is normally very precise in his use of language—did not recognise that I should have added those two words.

Drinks with a strength of 0·5 per cent. by volume or less would be able to be sold in unlicensed premises.

If my hon. Friend looks at the definition in the principal Act, he will see that his point is not necessary, because there is the use of percentages in the original Act, and it is made clear that it is by volume of alcohol within the totality of that being tested. There is no difficulty, and my hon. Friend's amendment would be in order.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton for his help. I am seeking to amend my hon. Friend's Bill, which would amend an Act that is already on the statute book. That Act is the reference point for him and, therefore, the ultimate reference point for me. I accept my hon. Friend's case.

There is a strong case for redefining intoxicating liquor at 0·05 per cent., not 0·5 per cent.

I suggested earlier that we are dealing with practicalities rather than theories. With respect, my hon. Friend is confusing a marketing policy for no-alcohol beers and full-strength beers, and not considering the practicalities of the amendment to the licensing laws. I hope that we shall hear about the immortal research by Professor Po to see how dangerous is the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) as against the theory being advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown).

I am delighted to advise my hon. Friend that, if only he will be patient, all will be revealed. I have in my hand, and the Minister has in his file, several pieces of paper; they are the study that was carried out by Professor Po. If my hon. Friend will be patient, he will see that I am not talking theoretical nonsense. I am talking practicalities. My hon. Friend continues to be muddled. I am anxious to get us away from low-alcohol beers. I regard them in the same way as my hon. Friend the Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household would regard them. They contain alcohol; they are alcoholic. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone that if the Bill is passed unamended it will be possible for a child to purchase low-alcohol beers from unlicensed premises. I am not sure whether that child would be breaking the law. I have a suspicion that, if the child were breaking the law, the supermarket sales girl at the cash checkout would be unaware whether the law is being broken.

Hon. Members must realise that I am seeking to put low-alcohol beers on one side. They are a dangerous commodity. For the reasons that the hon. Member for Huddersfield outlined in his intervention from the Opposition Front Bench, it is possible for low-alcohol beers to contribute to people committing a motoring offence, albeit unwittingly. Therefore, I should prefer that the House accept my amendment. It would then be absolutely clear that there is no danger whatever.

The current definition of intoxicating liquor excludes products which at any time in the process exceeded approximately 1·2 per cent. by volume. All are agreed—certainly my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton agrees —that that is a nonsense. Low-alcohol and no-alcohol beers are normally made by evaporating the alcohol from normal strength beers. The move to define the strength at the point of sale is welcomed by all.

At 7·45 this morning, when my clock radio alarm woke me, I heard the dulcet tones of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton coming through loud and clear. He was challenged by the interviewer, Sue MacGregor on the "Today" programme, on the attitude of the brewing industry. He reassured her, the nation and me—4 million people heard him—that the move to define the strength at the point of sale is welcomed by the industry.

As is the Bill. On that point, the Bill is welcome unamended.

However, my hon. Friend and I part company on whether the definition of intoxicating liquor at retail should be left at 1·2 per cent. or put at some lower figure. Some of my hon. Friends have challenged me about the matter, but 1·2 per cent. is quite high. There seems to be general agreement that the figure should be lower. The case for putting it at 0·05 per cent., as in my amendment No. 1, rather than 0·5 per cent., is based on the following three reasons that I can think of. You may be able to think of 33 reasons, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne may be able to think of 333 reasons. However, there are three good reasons that should command the full support of the House.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood said, consumer demand can be met by current technology for beers of 0·05 per cent. alcohol or less. It has been suggested —I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone has returned—that even at no-alcohol levels, and certainly at low-alcohol levels, alcohol must be made from full-strength alcohol and a dilution process then takes place. However, the technology that now exists has proved successful in manufacturing no-alcohol and low-alcohol beers at 0·05 per cent. alcohol by volume. Those tests have been successful to the extent that no-alcohol and low-alcohol beers below 0·05 per cent. now have a 30 per cent. share of the market. Both the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton may challenge me on whether it is technically feasible to manufacture low-alcohol beers at less than 0·05 per cent.

11.15 am

When I took my amendment to the Public Bill Office. the Clerks were at first disinclined to accept it on the grounds that Mr. Speaker would not select it because low-alcohol beer could not be made at 0·05 per cent. Like me, they did their researches, as they always do. We are well served by all who work in the Public Bill Office. One cannot bounce them into anything, because they are experts and they are never wrong. On this ocasion they were not wrong. They did their research and noted, as I have noted, that 30 per cent. of the market for no-alcohol and low-alcohol beers is accounted for by beers of a strength of 0·05 per cent. alcohol by volume which are on sale and available. Therefore, my amendment was not only tabled but selected by Mr. Speaker.

We have proof positive that if, in the early stages, there is any element of doubt in the Public Bill Office about an amendment, it will get its facts right before recommending to the House an amendment that cannot be anything but in order.

There is no technical reason for stopping, as my hon. Friend wishes to do, at 0·5 per cent. alcohol by volume. To bring it down to 0·05 per cent. would remove all danger of anyone becoming intoxicated from low-alcohol beer. I forget which of my hon. Friends said in an intervention that one would have to drink vast quantities—pints and pints or gallons and gallons—of beer at 0·5 per cent. alcohol by volume before one could become intoxicated. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne would say, I beg to be in respectful disagreement with my hon. Friend.

It seems sensible to avoid the danger of intoxication from the sale of low-alcohol beer from unlicensed premises. I shall use as evidence for my remarks the report to which I have already referred by Professor Po at Queen's university, Belfast. I shall refer to it in a moment.

My hon. Friend has referred more than once to that learned report. He said that he had sent it to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, or that it found its way to him. Did he send a copy to my hon. Friend the Treasurer of the Household, who has a deep interest in these matters? As it is from a professor in Northern Ireland, did he also send a copy to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who also has a deep interest in these matters?

I did not send the report to my hon. Friend the Minister. Ably briefed as ever, and suspecting that I might refer to the report, he has a copy on the Front Bench with him. I spoke earlier of the way in which Back Benchers are served in the House. Not only do we have brilliant and accurate advice from the Public Bill Office, but we can be assured that, when a Back Bencher refers to a report that others might regard as obscure but which he regards as eminently important, my hon. Friend the Minister has it available for his reference. I am only sad that he has not learned the lessons of the conclusions of the report, which I shall reveal to the House in a moment.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for giving way. He has cited the report more than twice. Does he have additional copies for me, and my hon. Friends and Opposition Members to peruse before he takes us through it, as I hope he will?

Secondly, will my hon. Friend tell the House a little more about Professor Li Wan Po? If we are to attach great weight to what he has said, we need to know a little more about where he did the treatise and about his experience. I feel sure that that would enable the House to give sufficient regard and weight to his report.

If only the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Energy would be patient, all will be revealed. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are in the Chair when the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes his Budget statement. Before he does so, you always say that copies of the Budget speech and related papers are not to be passed around the Chamber until the Chancellor has sat down. When I have completed my speech, I shall take such copies as are necessary for the hon. Member for Huddersfield, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) and any others—

I shall come to the Treasurer in a moment. I shall take copies of the report with great pleasure, so that, if any hon. Member doubts what I am saying about my amendment and wishes to challenge me, he or she can do so with all the evidence. Therefore, the answer to the questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling is yes, but when I have sat down.

I am aware that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are the same Mr. Deputy Speaker who is in the Chair on Budget Day and who takes a dim view of papers and copies of reports being circulated while the Chancellor is making his speech. We have to wait until the Chancellor sits down before papers and copies of reports relating to his speech can be circulated in the Chamber. Therefore, once I have concluded my speech, I shall go straight to the photocopying machine and take such copies as are necessary.

Nobody can challenge the evidence of a professor at the University of Belfast—

Because as my hon. Friends the Members for Eltham and for Eastbourne will testify, that university is probably one of the best institutions of academic learning in the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) has referred to the Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household. I have a suspicion that the Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household has read the report and that it was he who sent the report to the Minister. Everything in the report supports all that the Treasurer has said about the dangers of alcohol both in the Chamber and outside the House during the 11 years and two months that he has been a Member.

I said that there were three reasons to support my amendment. So far I have adumbrated two of them, so here is the third. If the level were confined to 0·05 per cent. of alcohol by volume, consumers in unlicensed premises would need to make no judgment about the level of alcohol. That is highly desirable in this already confused area. Consumers have difficulty distinguishing no-alcohol brands from low-alcohol brands, as is clear from some of the interventions made this morning. That is perfectly understandable. We glibly talk about "low-alcohol" and "no-alcohol" drinks, but there is not only confusion in the public mind; there is still greater confusion in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton is seeking to clear up that confusion, and I have no complaint with the general tenor of what he is seeking to do.

If the definition of "intoxicating liquor" were pitched at 0·05 per cent., matters would be much simpler. All products with a "low-alcohol" descriptor would be confined to licensed premises and all products with a "non-alcoholic" descriptor would be available in both licensed and unlicensed premises. What could be simpler? The simple test would be, if there is any alcohol in it, it must be sold in licensed premises only; if there is no alcohol in it, it can be sold in unlicensed premises. Surely that is even simpler than the clarification that I fully acknowledge that my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton is seeking to bring to section 201(1) of the Licensing Act 1964. However, there is still an element of confusion in my hon. Friend's Bill.

I know that my hon. Friend would not want to use words that might mislead the House, but surely he accepts that some of the products that are marketed as containing 0·05 per cent. alcohol nevertheless contain some alcohol. As they contain the slight 0·05 per cent. of alcohol, my hon. Friend's argument that there is no alcohol in such drinks is misleading, and I am sure that he would not want to mislead the House.

I see the point that my hon. Friend is making. I must acknowledge that even non-alcoholic beer may have contained alcohol at, say, one part per million —[Interruption.]—perhaps it is one part per 100 million —but it might be even less than that. Alcohol may have been involved because of the process of manufacture that my hon. Friend has described.

That is where the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South is absolutely correct. One would have to drink a swimming pool full of such a drink before there was any danger of one registering even 1 mm on the breathalyser. If one consumed such a quantity of drinks of 0·05 per cent. alcohol by volume to register that level, one would almost certainly be dead from causes other than alcoholism because one would have had to drink several times one's body weight.

I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton about not misleading the House. I certainly do not want to do that, but I am sure that he will agree that it would be impossible for somebody to become intoxicated in any way—even a seven-year-old—if my amendment were accepted. As I have said, by the time that one started to register as intoxicated on any breathalyser machine, one would almost certainly be dead for other reasons.

Much of my hon. Friend's argument has been about topping up the extra amount that one would have to drink if one were to be positively breathalysed on leaving a bar. If a person with 79·97 mg of alcohol in his blood per 100 ml leaves a bar and is breathalysed, that person is not considered to have committed an offence. We may deprecate the fact that he has that amount of alcohol in his blood, but he will not have committed an offence. However, if, with a reading of 79·97 mg per 100 ml in his blood, that person then drank something with 0·05 per cent. alcohol by volume, he would be over the top. Therefore, there is no absolute factor to suggest that, even if my hon. Friend's amendment were to be accepted, topping up would be done away with. As much of my hon. Friend's argument rests on that point about topping up, he should admit my argument. I accept that the level that he is proposing is not as great as that which I have proposed, but a level still exists and must be accepted as still existing.

Before the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) resumes his speech—

Order. We cannot have an intervention on an intervention. I call Mr. Brown.

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) in a moment. My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton is technically correct, but it is impossible to measure the degree of accuracy to which he has referred on any breathalyser machine—

We are not doing full justice to the scientific evidence. It is not just a question of Professor Po's evidence. I have similar evidence from King's college and other universities and institutes, which all points to the fact that it is impossible, in terms of the research carried out on the capacity of the human body, to reach the 79·95 level and then to become over the limit by an alcoholic content of 0·05, although an alcoholic content of 0·5 could put one over the limit. The hon. Gentleman is not doing full justice to his case.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We should not rely only on Professor Po's research. I have all the other evidence to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred.

11.30 am

Yes, I am. I have also the report of Professor Tipton of the university of Dublin and the report by Dr. Badawy, a top-grade biochemist with the South Glamorgan health authority. The hon. Gentleman's point is also confirmed by Professor Merton Sandler of the postgraduate medical school at the university of London. I have also the policy statement of Professor Timothy Peters, FRCPath. of the King's college school of medicine and dentistry, King's college, London, regarding the top-up question. I shall return to that statement in a moment, but not until I have dealt with the university of Belfast report.

Much of the discussion has centred on whether taking another drop of alcohol would push someone over the breathalyser limit. Does not my hon. Friend agree that the discussion should centre on whether a person's ability to drive would be impaired? There is a great deal of evidence that the driving of many of those who are below the breathalyser limit is impaired, that they cause unnecessary accidents and that they may cause unnecessary loss of life. That is the real issue, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

But that is not the purpose of the amendments. I hope that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) will return to that purpose.

You are absolutely right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You were quite right to rule my hon. Friend's intervention wholly out of order. It had nothing whatsoever to do with the amendment, which addresses the top-up question. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) has always been concerned about the effect of alcohol on driving. He knows a great deal about the subject. He has demonstrated his expertise and knowledge whenever he has served on Standing Committees that have considered transport Bills.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South had wanted to challenge me, he ought to have questioned me on the top-up policy by referring to the Guinness policy statement on the top-up question.

Before my hon. Friend starts to challenge me on the top-up question, which is wholly in order insofar as it relates to the amendment, I ought to tell him about the top-up question. If the blood alcohol level is 78 mg per 100 ml of blood, one pint—that is, 568 ml—of low-alcohol beer containing 1 per cent. by volume of ethanol, consumed over 20 minutes is almost certain to increase the blood alcohol level of many adult subjects to a value above the legal limit for driving of 80 mg per 100 ml of blood.

Dr. A. Badawy, a top-grade biochemist, says that. He represents South Glamorgan health authority.

I chide my hon. Friend for the way in which he is presenting his case, but it pains me to do so. Normally, one produces the evidence in scientific matters and draws conclusions. My hon. Friend has been drawing conclusions for a considerable time. I hope that we shall soon hear about the valuable evidence of Professor Po, on which the whole of my hon. Friend's case rests.

If I had walked into the Chamber, picked up Professor Po's report and read it, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would have immediately called me to order and asked what it had to do with the amendment. You would also have ordered me to resume my seat. We have to keep within the rules of order and we have to speak to amendments. If we do not, we are ordered to resume our seats, or we are called to order. An amendment is tabled to do this or to change that, and we have to consider the basis is for wanting to make the change. We have to provide a basis for the argument. Then we use the evidence. It ought to be done my way, or hon. Members would be ordered to resume their seats. We make our case and then introduce evidence to support it when we are challenged by colleagues, as I am being challenged.

I hope to be able to rebut those challenges, at least to the satisfaction of the Chair, as each challenge is put to me, by revealing my evidence. The Minister is in possession of all the evidence that I have in my hand. I am not making up these names. Every piece of paper that I possess is also possessed by the Minister and can be found in his files. He has the report by Dr. Badawy of South Glamorgan health authority. He also has the report on the Guinness policy statement on the top-up question from Dr. Timothy Peters and also the report from Dublin university by Professor Tipton, who is the head of the department of biochemistry at Trinity college. If my hon. Friend does not believe me, I hope that he will believe the Minister when he refers to the evidence.

I said earlier that the House should support my amendment rather than the amendments of my hon. Friends the Members for Maidstone and for Gedling for three reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling has been absolutely irresponsible in tabling his amendment. According to amendment No. 10, the level of 0·5 per cent. would be deleted and would be replaced by a level of 1·2 per cent. Dr. Badawy, of South Glamorgan health authority provides the evidence on which we should reject my hon. Friend's amendment. Dr. Badawy says that it is possible for someone to consume 1 per cent. by volume of alcohol ethanol over 20 minutes and that in the case of many adults that alone will mean that they are above the legal limit for driving. According to my hon. Friend's amendment, that limit would be raised to 1·2 per cent. He wants people to drive while they are under the influence of alcohol.

My hon. Friend's amendment is irresponsible. I do not believe that he intended it to be irresponsible when he tabled it. It is quite possible that he may catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and rebut the charge that I have levelled at him, but I prefer to use the evidence of Dr. Badawy, a top-grade biochemist, as the basis on which I shall cast my vote if my hon. Friend is irresponsible enough to call a Division on his amendment. I hope that he will not even move the amendment. If he does, I hope that he will not press it to a Division, but if he does that, I urge the House to reject it utterly. The amendment is irresponsible, but my hon. Friend is the Parliamentary Private Secretary to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, so he cannot be irresponsible, but that is the effect of the amendment. I shall give way to my hon. Friend and I hope that he can account for his amendment.

My hon. Friend makes an uncharacteristically intemperate attack on my amendment. If I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall certainly move amendment No. 10 and I shall demonstrate that, far from being irresponsible, I am seeking to join the rest of the House and act in the spirit of the Bill in making it safer for children and those who drive having consumed modest amounts of drink, by making the definitions clearer. If my hon. Friend stays to hear my brief intervention in the debate, I hope that he will realise that my amendment has the same intention as his, but I am approaching the same common task with a slightly different emphasis.

I am sorry, but that will not do. I am seeking to reduce while my hon. Friend is seeking to increase. It is that simple.

My hon. Friend is wrong. He is not seeking to maintain the status quo. The Bill reduces the limit from 1·2 per cent. to 0·5 per cent. I am proposing that it should be 0·05 per cent. My hon. Friend says that he is in favour of the status quo, but he is in favour of returning to the limit set in 1964, which is not the base from which we should be starting now that there has been a 30 per cent. growth in the market in low-alcohol and non-alcoholic beers.

Does my hon. Friend really want to intervene again after what he has just heard?

I merely wish to stress that I am seeking to maintain the status quo. The Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) is not yet law, so the status quo is currently 1·2 per cent.

Why do we change legislation? Why do we seek to alter the status quo? Because we are not satisfied with the present position. The Government have been in power for 11 years. On 4 May 1979, when the Prime Minister first appeared at the Dispatch Box, she did not say that we had just been elected as a Conservative Government and we were here to maintain the status quo. We are not here to maintain the status quo; we are elected to implement our beliefs and to make changes in legislation. We are here to make improvements. My hon. Friend should not defend the status quo, which is indefensible. Clause 1 of the 13111 amends section 201(1) of the Licensing Act 1964. It is a move in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. It rightly amends the status quo that was set in 1964 and that is unacceptable in 1990. It has to be changed for the reasons that several hon. Members, certainly the hon. Member for Huddersfield, have mentioned. The status quo once left us without the breathalyser and without speed limits. We changed the status quo because it was wrong. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will seek to make a case for his amendment, but he has not made a case for it in his interventions so far.

I, too, hope to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend has quoted a statistic several times. He said that 30 per cent. of the market represents low-alcohol and non-alcoholic beers. The House might find that slightly misleading. Perhaps my hon. Friend can explain what proportion of that 30 per cent. represents low-alcohol beers and what proportion represents non-alcoholic beers.

11.45 am

I cannot do that as I should need to take advice from Guinness Brewing G.B., as that was the source of the statistic that I quoted. Unfortunately it did not break down the figures within that 30 per cent. into LABs and NABs.

I do not want to prolong the hon. Gentleman's speech, which has lasted for more than one hour and 10 minutes, but the letter that I received from Guinness pointed out that its products at 0·05 per cent. alcohol now represent 20 per cent. of the LAB and NAB market.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that information, which answers the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale).

I have set out three reasons why we should accept my amendment in preference to the status quo, to the figure that my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton suggests, to the figure chosen by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone in her amendment No. 8 and most certainly in preference to the amendment that my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling seeks to move later this morning.

If the definition of intoxicating liquor were to be struck at 0·5 per cent., there would be three categories: low-alcohol products allowed to be sold in licensed premises only; low-alcohol products allowed to be sold in licensed and unlicensed premises and non-alcoholic products allowed to be sold in licensed and unlicensed premises. In those circumstances it is possible that there would be a move to reclassify 0·5 per cent. alcohol by volume as alcohol free to avoid consumer confusion. My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton would be the first to say that that would be utterly misleading.

I referred earlier to the note that Guinness Brewing G.B. sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister also received a copy of that letter.

Order. Although it seems an awful long time ago, I have heard all this before. I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman is not getting repetitive.

You have not heard it all before, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I quoted paragraphs 1 to 4 and I referred to paragraph 5. I referred to the report of Professor Li Wan Po of the department of pharmacy at Queen's university, Belfast. I did not refer to that report in detail; I merely referred to the author, the title and the author's credentials. Most emphatically, I deliberately did not do so because I knew that if I were to read out paragraph 5 of the letter and I then returned to the report, you would probably call me to order, so I took great care not to refer to Professor Po's report in the context of my amendment.

I left out paragraph 5 of the letter, as the record of my speech will show, and with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I must stress that that study showed the following fact to be true. A calculation has been made. If you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, think that you have heard this all before I shall stop, but I do not think that you have. The intake of a single bolus—I may have to define that for hon. Members who are not familiar with the term—of one pint or steady drinking of two to three pints per hour of beer containing either 0·5 per cent. by volume of alcohol or 1 per cent. by volume of alcohol—0·2 per cent. by volume of alcohol less than the status quo—increases the blood-alcohol level, whereas the intake of beer containing 0·5 per cent. of alcohol by volume is perfectly safe. Who says that? Not me. Have I said it before this morning? No, because there must be verification of the fact. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling upbraided me for stating a conclusion without first giving the evidence. To keep myself in order, I have just given the conclusion.

The evidence of Professor Li Wan Po—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Seventy-seven minutes into his speech, is it in order to move that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) no longer be heard and that we hear the Minister and the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery)?

I very much hope that the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) will take that as a message of resentment about how speeches have been needlessly protracted. I remind the House that more than 20 private Member's Bills are on the Order Paper. At the end of every Session, there arc complaints from hon. Members who have been frustrated in their efforts to bring their Bill before the House and make progress. I hope that hon. Members will bear in mind the interests of other hon. Members and my duty to safeguard them.

Most certainly, but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will acknowledge that before the Bill, which was a balloted Bill, is put on the statute book, we should consider its implications. In its present form, the Bill may mislead people outside into believing that by consuming low-alcohol beers, having consumed two and a half pints of full-alcohol beer, they are safe. They may be endangering themselves and others by being over the limit.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I have your guidance? Is there a qualitative difference between balloted Bills and ten-minute Bills a legitimate parliamentary procedure whereby hon. Members have had the sweat of queueing at the Public Bill Office? May I have a ruling on whether balloted Bills are qualitatively more important than and different from ten-minute Bills?

The position is quite clear. All the Bills on the Order Paper have equal status, except in terms of the sequence in which they come before the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I, more than any other hon. Member, have experienced the frustration of even a second-placed Bill failing because the debate before it was protracted, sometimes deliberately. Many amendments have been tabled to the Bill, which reflects serious interest in it. I have spoken to an amendment about which I feel extremely strongly. I am interested in the points being made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). He is addressing not one, but a series of amendments. If his speech is lengthy, surely it has been in order and surely he is addressing the Bill. As it has precedence, we are entitled to do so.

I apologise for detaining the House, but I remember that when the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone was before the House there were 30 or 40 Bills following it. We debated the Bill until 2·30 pm, but it did not proceed beyond the first amendment. I do not remember hon. Members expressing much concern about that.

Order. The concern that was expressed to the Chair on that occasion prompted my remarks this morning. I hope that the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) will bear in mind her resentment of how some hon. Members treated her Bill when considering the rights and interests of other hon. Members. Let us get on.

I shall deal now with the report from Queen's university, Belfast, but I do not know how to do so. Should I read out the facts or the summary? From what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will be satisfied —if you are satisfied, other hon. Members will be—if I simply paraphrase it.

Theoretical modelling of alcohol pharmacokinetics in humans was carried out to investigate whether low-alcohol beers could raise blood-alcohol levels to toxic level. A literature search was carried out to obtain the prerequisite parameters for alcohol pharmacokinetics in humans. Data published in studies were pooled and described statistically to provide mean values and variance data. Simulation using those parameters was carried out with the computer packages non-lin and minitab. Non-lin is a general non-linear programme, while minitab is a general statistics package. The conclusions that can be drawn from the current study are:
"Wide inter-subject variability exists in alcohol elimination from the body. Factors known to alcohol elimination rates and effects include gender, previous exposure, age, genetic variability in enzyme activity and social setting and a blood-alcohol level 800 mg per ml is reduced to half that level in about two and a half hours."

These are complex scientific matters. May I emphasise that it would be helpful if hon. Members could have a copy of the research that my hon. Friend is producing?

I have been generous in giving way. I have had rather more interventions than I should have liked, but as soon as I sit down I shall photocopy the report and ensure that it is available to hon. Members so that they may challenge what I am saying if they wish. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, thought that you heard me say something before. I am happy to provide you with a copy, and perhaps the Clerk might like one in order to assist you. It is an important report.

Conclusion No. 4 shows that a pint of non-alcoholic beer had a negligible effect on blood levels. A pint of low-alcohol beer may increase the blood level to over 150 mg per litre. That is almost twice the legal limit for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to drive to Doncaster or for me to drive to Cleethorpes.

There can be no doubt that this is a serious amendment that deserves the serious consideration of the House. My comments have been challenged, but I have not relied on my intuition or my statistics and I have not made them up. I have not relied only on the views of Guinness, although it must be acknowledged that it has a vested interest in how the Bill gets on the statute book. I have relied on medical and academic evidence, not just on the report from Queen's university Belfast. I have relied on a host of other medical experts, so I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will be the first to agree that I have approached the debate reasonably and responsibly.

My hon. Friend is at last coming to the evidence on which he has based his case so far. I accept the learned professor's words when he says that if one drinks 0·5 per cent. by volume of alcohol, more alcohol will be put into the blood than if one drinks 0·05 per cent. One does not have to be a professor to reach that conclusion.

Did I hear right? Did my hon. Friend say that the learned professor said that if one drinks one pint of the 0·5 per cent. by volume low-alcohol beer, it could reach levels of 150 per cent. in the blood?

Yes, my hon. Friend heard precisely that. He was the one who intervened in my speech earlier to say that someone would have to drink gallons and gallons of low-alcohol beer for it to have a negligible effect. If my hon. Friend wants further evidence, my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton has the very report.

12 noon

It is contained in conclusion No. 5 in the report. If my hon. Friend wants me to refer to the evidence, I must turn to page 12. I have a suspicion that while I do not think that I would be out of order, it appears that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, might think that I was out of order if I were to refer to page 12, but my whole case rests on conclusion No. 5, and I think that I would be perfectly in order to draw that to Mr. Deputy Speaker's attention.

I shall turn to conclusion No. 6, on page 13, which states:
"Drinking non-alcoholic beer at a rate of 1 pint per 20 minutes does not increase alcohol levels beyond 15 mg per millilitre."
There is even more damning evidence in the report, where it states:
"Drinking low-alcohol beer at a rate of one pint per 20 minutes may raise the blood-alcohol level"—
wait for it—
"to 800 mg within three hours."
[Interruption.] I thought that that would cause some murmurs and raise the temperature. The report continues:
"Rapid drinking of one pint of de-alcoholised beer when the blood-alcohol level is already at 800 mg per ml, will increase that level to higher levels for half an hour."

Yes, but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I represent northern constituencies. It is not unknown for people in the north, if they do not today, to have drunk such quantities in the past. That is what we are dealing with. I think that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as Member for a constituency not far away from the one that I represent, will agree that we have problems with people who drink such volumes of alcohol.

If we get the opportunity to debate this matter further, some of us may wish to refer to the report and demonstrate that it has already been widely debated nationally, and not all its conclusions are as readily accepted as my hon. Friend would seem to say. Does he not accept that anyone who drinks nine pints of beer in three hours might consider that he should not drive anyway?

Yes, but if that person was drinking low-alcohol beer, he would say, "Oh, but it is low-alcohol beer. I have drunk nine pints of low-alcohol beer, so I am all right. I shall get in my car and drive away." When the person is breathalysed and the breathalyser goes through the roof and virtually blows up the police car as well as the machine, he will not think so any more.

Much levity is expressed about this issue in certain quarters, but it is serious. Someone may drink nine pints of low-alcohol beer, get into his motor car and think that he is safe from prosecution. Nothing could be further from the truth, as paragraph 8 of the learned professor's report shows.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. He has suffered from a great deal of injury time this morning. We should not complain about the length of his speech in view of his courtesy in giving way. Does he not agree that some of the advertising of low-alcohol beers is highly misleading? A well-known brand is advertised as 100 per cent. Tennents and 1 per cent. alcohol. Would not anyone reading that advertisement assume that he was quite safe to drink an unlimited supply of Tennents low-alcohol beer?

That is the nub of the question. Low-alcohol beer is not safe to drink in vast quantities. The type of person who might be encouraged-because he likes to drink a lot of alcohol in terms of volume-is the type of person who may well be inclined to drink beers such as my hon. Friend mentioned.

The report from the department of pharmacy at Queen's university, Belfast contains another 23 conclusions that support my amendment. I have drawn the attention of the House to only six of those conclusions, and the outrage and shock expressed by my hon. Friends at those conclusions suggests that they will be incapable of coping with any more.

My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton is drawing to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) some of the more incredible facts, supported not only by the department of pharmacy at Queen's university, Belfast, but by the university of Dublin and a number of others.

Therefore, I hope that I have made my case. There are another 20 conclusions that I shall not draw to the attention of the House. I shall photocopy the report arid ensure that it is in the hands of my hon. Friends should they wish to catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye. If they want to challenge anything that I have said, I shall happily reply.

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in today's interesting arid important debate. I shall try to follow some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg arid Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), but at less length, because I am conscious that a number of my hon. Friends wish to speak both on this Bill and the next. I see that the proposer of the next Bill is present. It is appropriate that, for a Bill dealing with horses, he should attend on us in his riding gear and apparel.

For the sake of good order, I start by declaring a loose interest in the debate as a shareholder and adviser to a family business in the wine trade. As far as I am aware, no low alcohol drinks are sold in that business, so my comments are not related to that. My constituency contains the Home brewery, an outstanding supplier of ales of all kinds to my constituents and others in the Nottingham area. I have not spoken directly to the company on this issue, although I have meetings with the management on many matters of local concern, and am aware of its views. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and have a chance to give the brewing industry's professional view on many of these matters because that is extremely important.

Every day 40,000 pints of low-alcohol and nonalcoholic drinks are drunk. We are dealing with a growing and important market. That was one reason why I was so surprised that Northern Ireland was excluded from the Bill. Scotland is also excluded from one of the first two clauses. I am grateful for what my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) has already told us informally, and I believe he will say more in his speech.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton on bringing before the House an important matter that needs our attention. I propose my amendment No. 10 as a probing amendment. Before today's debate I was not fully decided about the matter and I shall listen with great interest to the Minister.

There is clear agreement in the House about what we seek to achieve. We want clearer definition and a greater ability to understand the effects of alcoholic drink and to ensure that the consumer is able to understand those effects. I listened with intense care to the peroration of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes. Although he produced a great deal of complicated evidence, he was not successful in persuading the House that we should all adhere to his aim.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton on the way in which he has guided the Bill. He has brought it to the House in a form that is largely acceptable and I make no bones about that. He has also managed to steer it through Committee with little unrest and without disturbing any of the professional lobbies. The only group that has made representations to the House is Guinness plc, and I am sure that we are all grateful to Guinness for giving us its view.

I have tabled a probing amendment, and I wish to speak about the other amendments in the group, too. Amendment No. 10 seeks to leave out "0·65 per cent." and to insert "1·2 per cent." As we have already established, I wish to maintain the status quo. I shall dwell on a number of aspects, especially the labelling of spirits and beers, and the way in which amendment No. 10 would bring about some rationality in the market which does not exist at present.

My hon. Friend the Minister has already referred briefly to the ministerial group on alcohol misuse, which is more generally and rightly known as the Wakeham committee. Many of us regarded it as an important contribution and we were pleased by the high prominence that the Prime Minister gave to that committee, which sought genuinely to make some inroads into the tragedies caused by alcohol misuse. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give us a few thoughts on what came out of that committee and on what progress it made.

I also hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will pay tribute to the considerable good work of the working group on alcohol and young people which produced the Masham report. I am sure that we need to hear something on that. In addition, we need a qualitative statement from the Minister about the report to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes referred and about the detailed scientific evidence on which he touched. Even now, he is circulating copies of the papers to which he referred.

I am content to leave the decisions on the scientific evidence to the Minister. If the Government support the Bill—I am pleased to see that they do in effect—my hon. Friend will, no doubt, have already considered the weight that should be attached to the evidence. He should be able to give us the benefit of the Government's and his Department's views of the detailed scientific evidence, which is too much for me, a humble Back-Bencher, to weigh in the balance.

One area of concern today has been to find out the precise alcoholic strengths of various drinks and to know how they compare with other alcoholic drinks on sale. I want briefly to shed some light on that. I have managed to persuade the Library to provide some information. In beers generally, the alcohol content varies from 2 per cent. for some of the mild Scandinavian varieties to about 8 per cent. in especially strong beers. Most American beers vary from 4 per cent. to 5 per cent.

The natural, unfortified and dry wines, such as Burgundy, Chianti and Sauternes contain between 8 per cent. and 12 per cent. alcohol and most American varieties contain between 12 per cent. and 14 per cent. Vermouth and aperitif wines usually contain about 18 per cent. Cocktail wines, and dessert and sweet wines, such as sherry, port and moscatel, contain 20 per cent. to 21 per cent. That is the magnitude of the range of wines with which we are comparing low-alcohol beers and it is important for us to be aware of those figures.

12.15 pm

It is also extremely important to hear what the Department of Health feels about the Bill and about the alcohol content of the drinks that we are discussing. The central point of my case is that I fear that 0·5 per cent. may be the worst of all worlds. That is a point made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who has kindly sat through our debate this morning. The tipping-over-the-top effect may be made worse by having a 0·5 per cent. level.

We discussed briefly the importance of specific gravity and whether that was the issue, but I do not believe that it is. It is more important for us to focus on the signals that we send to children who will be able to buy these goods and to people who may drive following a drink and who may be even more confused as a result of the Bill than they would be otherwise. It is helpful for our deliberations to have with us the Minister for Roads and Traffic with whom we so often discuss what he can do to enhance the safety of roads in our constituencies. I am sure that he would have a signal contribution to make, if he were to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on what he considers to be the Bill's likely effects.

I had two major concerns in tabling a probing amendment. It will be difficult for us to pass the Bill unless we are certain of the signals that we send to children and of the effect it may have on those who drive after a modest amount of drink and who want to be clear where they stand. They have no wish to go anywhere near the limit. We must not send them false signals which fail to help them to carry out their perfectly legal and law-abiding aim to have a modest drink and then to be able to drive.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes gave three good reasons for a figure of 0·05 per cent., in respect of which he has tabled an amendment. I do not find the argument as compelling as he did. I am content to leave the analysis to my hon. Friend the Minister who will be able to set our minds at rest. However, it is important to recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes made an eloquent and accurate tribute to the Public Bill Office for the way in which it handled the advice on all the amendments which, although closely related, are slightly different. I am sure that all of us join him in that tribute.

I mentioned earlier that the Home brewery, which is now owned by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, is a distinguished and important business in my constituency. I shall touch briefly on some of the technical problems with 0·05 per cent., the figure that was so eloquently and lengthily supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes. Near beers—that is, beers that are not full strength—are produced with more alcohol than normal. That alcohol is then drawn off to create beers with an alcoholic content of, for example, 0·05 per cent.

The first of my two great concerns is that there may be severe technical problems with the process. I am not an expert, but I understand that the industry has advised that such problems might arise. My other fear is that if most of the alcohol is drawn off, leaving only 0·05 per cent., the resulting taste will not be as attractive or the drinks as palatable as beers containing slightly more alcohol. If we set the limit so low, the product may not prove at all popular and may not sell well, and that will undermine an important aim of the Bill.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The net effect of the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) that we reduce the limit not to 0·5 per cent. but to 0·05 per cent. would be to make many of the products so upalatable that people would choose stronger beers rather than opting for the low-alcohol beers whose consumption the Bill seeks to encourage.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is more knowledgeable than me about the brewing industry. I suspect that he knows more than many of us about the technical aspects of the production and marketing of such products. He has cast some doubt on the first hour of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes and I am sure that the House will be grateful to him for his intervention.

It is perhaps an illustration of the unity that exists on these matters that I can support absolutely one of the points of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), who said that under the Bill children might learn more easily about alcohol and might learn to consume alcohol. She said that ease of access by children to alcohol and near-alcohol was highly undesirable. She also said that children cannot commute the amount of alcohol that they have consumed. She was worried about alcohol addiction—the habit-forming nature of the product—and mentioned the possible effect of alcohol on brain cells, which is a matter of scientific evidence.

I should like to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton has to say on the subject of children and it would also help to hear the Minister's view, not so much on the health aspects but on matters affecting the Home Office. Under the auspices of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, then the Home Secretary, the Home Office set up a group designed to work to make parents more responsible for the actions of their children as a means of combating juvenile crime and ensuring better parental control. Clearly, the Bill can be seen in that context. I shall find it more difficult to support the Bill if my hon. Friend the Minister cannot tell us that it is likely to make it easier for parents to exercise control over their children. We regard that as fundamental to the credo of our party on law and order, which we wish to see enforced and enhanced. I shall be interested to hear from the Minister what the Home Office thinks.

Hon. Members have argued eloquently about the topping-up effect on drivers. We must be clear of the effect that the drinks will have on drivers and the drivers themselves must be clear of it if the Bill is to have a beneficial effect. Many people were not in favour of the introduction of seat-belt legislation—a cause that I know is near to your heart, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Those who work in the National Health Service have seen the significant effect of that measure in reducing driving accidents. My wife, who worked some years ago in a major hospital close to the M4 and often had to deal with road accidents, is an avid supporter of the measure because it has greatly diminished the frequency with which she had to deal with the sad and tragic results of road accidents. As important as the argument about children is the argument that drivers must be able more easily to see the effects that drinking the products will have. It is important to keep both those considerations at the forefront of our minds.

It has been suggested that six or seven pints of low-alcohol beer could be treated in the same way as six or seven pints of lemonade and that the levels are potentially misleading. There is always the fear that low-alcohol drinks will be regarded as effectively non-alcoholic and that the Bill will serve only to create confusion and diminish responsibility. That was the consideration at the heart of my probing amendment and that was what led me to believe that there was considerable merit in maintaining the status quo.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), I almost regard the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) as my hon. Friend because of his kindness to me on my first day in the House. He emphasised the dangers of encouraging under-age drinking, and I cite his remarks to support my case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne spoke in a style and manner unique to this place and made famous by him. He eloquently supported my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone. He made it clear that he favoured the focusing of attention on specific gravity. I listened carefully and with an open mind and I thought that he put a good case in favour of the House accepting my hon. Friend's amendment rather than mine.

I hope that in his winding-up speech my hon. Friend the Minister will clarify the amounts and their effects. I hope that he will also consider carefully the interests of other Departments in the Bill. It will have an effect on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, as well as on the EEC, which introduces measures affecting the definition and labelling of low-alcohol drinks. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and I have suffered a calamity today. When we cannot be in our constituencies we reside in the borough of Islington, where the community charge bills have been delivered this morning. I fear that no amount of alcohol-free lager will be able to mitigate their appalling effects on my hon. Friend and me.

My hon. Friend referred to the fact that he received his community charge bill—

Order. What has the community charge to do with it? Let us get back to the amendment.

12.30 pm

I am extremely grateful for your protection, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because my hon. Friend was seeking to guide me down a route which was clearly out of order. I was making the point that whatever amendment, if any, was included in the Bill could not make up for the tremendous size of the community charge bill which I received in the letter box this morning, and on which it would not be appropriate for me to comment further, despite my hon. Friend's inducement. Nor would it be appropriate for me to mention that one third of the charge is to finance the special arrangements that the authority made and should not have made.

As the Bill stands, for drinks to be sold legally in unlicensed premises, they will have to contain 0·5 per cent. alcohol at the time of consumption or supply rather than during manufacture. When my hon. Friend sums up, could he advise us and make it quite clear whether the change in the way in which the level of alcohol is calculated has any other significance that we should be aware of? For example, alcohol commuted during fermentation may have a different relationship to the level of alcohol commuted during production. Can he give us advice on the difference between those two at the time of sale?

My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton has been careful to make it clear that the Bill rationalises a position which has previously been confused. We need to know whether eliminating the tests during preparation will have any other effects. Also, if the figure was 1·2 per cent. in 1964, what good reason is there for changing it now?

Amendment No. 1, which would leave out 0·5 per cent. and insert 0·05 per cent., would be too restrictive, and is therefore not compelling. Amendment No. 9 comes close to the amendment standing in my name. It would reduce the figure from 0·5 per cent. to 0·1 per cent. and is similar to amendment No. 1, proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes.

Amendment No. 2 aims to delete all words after "per cent.", but there must be a point of definition, so it would be helpful for us to know the thinking behind that amendment. In amendment No. 3, what does "other conduct in question" mean? That is a relevant point that needs to be explained.

I have already dealt with amendment No. 4, which is important because it would bring Scotland into line with England. Generally, we are in favour of that, particularly in some areas of public spending, where I would strongly favour that.

I think that my hon. Friend is thinking of the National Health Service—and who can blame him when the Scots can spend 25 per cent. more than we can? However, that is an avenue down which I would not wish to advance, or I would try your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

One effect of the Bill will be to align some of the provisions of the licensing laws on the sale of drinks in unlicensed premises with requirements about the labelling of non-alcoholic and low-alcohol drinks. However, I fear that the Bill, if passed in its original form, may create new anomalies.

As I understand it, the Bill would mean that drinks containing up to 0·5 per cent. alcohol by volume would be allowed to be sold in unlicensed premises but that 1·2 per cent. alcohol by volume would remain the lower limit for the purposes of excise duty. By deviating from the 1·2 per cent. figure, we will create an additional anomaly: there will be a potential range of drinks between 0·5 per cent. and 1·2 per cent. which will come within the new definition of low alcohol, which may only be consumed on licensed premises but on which no excise duty will be payable. The 0·5 per cent. limit corresponds with the labelling requirements for de-alcoholised wine and beer.

There seems to be a division of opinion about the minimum level of alcohol required for a drink to be intoxicating, and after our discussions today, I am not sure whether any of us are clearer about that. In a consultation document issued in 1988, the Government stated:
"drinks below 1·2 per cent. alcohol are non-excisable and generally regarded as non-alcoholic … there is evidence which suggests that it is not possible to become intoxicated from the consumption of drinks with a strength of up to 1·5 per cent."
What has changed the Government's view since then? No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will want to address that point.

Later, a concentration of 1·2 per cent. was described as "unlikely to be intoxicating." That statement was made in a press notice from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 8 September 1988.

A consultation letter that appeared on 19 April 1989 stated that low-alcohol lagers can contain 0·9 per cent. It continued:
"Ministers are concerned to ensure that consumers are not misled into thinking that such drinks are lower in alcohol than they are in reality."
In a debate led by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton on 26 January, there was some discussion about the significance of the 0·5 per cent. threshold in terms of its effects on blood alcohol levels, particularly on drivers who had already been drinking normal strength drinks. It is difficult to know what is meant by the term "non-intoxicating" in that context even when the Government use it.

A cat's cradle of different levels of alcohol is being referred to in different ways by different Departments. There is a danger that that could be misleading. We all know that different amounts of drink affect different people in different ways. A former Opposition Member, Mr. Russell Kerr, was acquitted of a drink-driving charge because he managed to show that something in his gut generated alcohol. That was a most ingenious defence; and it shows that applying absolute levels in the way that the Government have applied them in different press releases can be extremely misleading for people who want to know what they have drunk.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. I very much hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) will be able to speak to his Bill later. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton will be successful and also that the next Bill will reach the statute book.

There is bound to be confusion in the labelling of low-alcohol beers. A recent press release from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on labelling controls on low-alcohol beers, stated:
"This is a rapidly expanding sector of the drinks market. While my colleagues and I believe that existing labelling laws are broadly sufficient to ensure that lower alcohol drinks can easily be distinguished from normal strength products, we think it would be sensible to restrict the use of the term 'low alcohol' to those drinks not exceeding 1·2 per cent. alcohol by volume. Such drinks are unlikely to be intoxicating. It is important that the term 'low alcohol' should apply consistently to the whole range of alcoholic drinks if it is to be helpful to consumers."
That is a very definite statement, and we need to know whether the Government's view has changed.

Almost exactly a year ago—on 19 April 1989—a letter from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food outlined a proposal to restrict the use of the description "low-alcohol" and similar terms. The second paragraph of the letter made it absolutely clear that the Ministry wished
"to restrict the use of the description 'Low-alcohol' and similar terms to alcoholic drinks not exceeding 1·2 per cent. alcohol by volume."
That is very different from the terminology that is used in the Bill. It is the burden of my amendment, and it is important that we should consider that.

A press release from the Ministry of Agriculture dated 15 May 1989 referred to the strength marking of alcoholic drinks and to
"New regulations giving consumers details about the alcoholic content of the drinks they buy".
The release goes on:
"The regulations, which were laid before Parliament today, will implement EC legislation making alcoholic strength marking compulsory for prepackaged drinks with an alcoholic strength of more than 1·2 per cent. alcohol by volume. The regulations also require strength marking indications to be given for a representative sample of dispensed drinks offered for sale in retail outlets such as public houses, wine bars and restaurants. The requirement for dispensed drinks is subject to a maximum sample size of six for Community-controlled wines and 30 for other alcoholic drinks and the information can be added to existing price boards or wine lists."
The last bit is incomprehensible Eurospeak. However, the first part is clear: it shows that the Government have examined the issue carefully, and reached the conclusion that 1·2 per cent. is the right cut-off level.

Let me complete my brief speech by congratulating—

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have spoken for much less time than other hon. Members. I am sure that he does not wish to prolong my speech.

On all these points, it is the Minister and the Bill's promoter, my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, who will be able to clarify the different amendments and the effects that they will have. I have tried to put the case for my amendment. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton both on his subject and on the skill with which he has steered the Bill towards its position today. I shall be supporting him. I shall not request a Division on my amendment.

The House and the country owe my hon. Friend a debt for introducing a Bill which—subject to the points on which I seek clarification—will be of great benefit to society, especially in the two or three respects that I have identified.

I am privileged to follow the expert speeches of my hon. Friends. Perhaps I can reassure the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) that I do not propose to detain the House for longer than 10 minutes or so.

I will start by declaring that—as stated in the Register of Members' Interests—I have an interest as consultant to the Brewers Society. In that position, I can confirm what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery)—that the Bill is welcomed by the society and by the industry. There is a clear need for the definition that it introduces. It is also welcomed by Alcohol Concern and the Health Education Authority.

Let me refer to some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) about what has happened in the marketplace. I shall refer specifically to a review in the Brewing Review of January 1990 of low-alcohol and alcohol-free beers. In view of the time, I will not go into the details of the review, but it is worth putting on the record its summary, which points out that, in two years, the market in the United Kingdom for low-alcohol and no-alcohol beers has been transformed. It is the fastest-growing sector of the drinks marketplace, and has accelerated more rapidly than any other drinks type in living memory. There has been a remarkable shift in consumer attitudes. The industry deserves credit for that, because the marketing has undoubtedly improved.

Until 1987 or so, the sales of no-alcohol and low-alcohol beer suffered from a lack of credibility because of the poor perception that many drinkers had of product quality. However, today there is a new scenario. The most important fact is that regular beer drinkers now believe that no-alcohol and low-alcohol beers are a perfectly acceptable choice of drink—and not just when they are driving. That traditional perception has now changed, as is proved by the sales figures, which show year-on-year increases of more than 100 per cent. and more and more brands entering the market.

My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton is to be warmly congratulated on bringing forward the Bill and on his expertise and, I hope, on seeing it complete its passage today. Hon. Members will be used to Scottish Members asking, "What about Scotland?" in tones varying from genuine inquiry to artificial outrage. I put myself on the side of the genuine inquirers.

12.45 pm

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall).

However, I should not accuse my hon. Friends of overlooking Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) visited Scotland recently. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes is renowned for the expertise that he demonstrated on the Standing Committee that considered the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Bill, when he covered many aspects of the history of Scottish education. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell) referred to his recent experience in Scotland.

Unless I have completely misunderstood the position, all the amendments exclude Scotland. They relate only to clause 1. The House should think seriously before passing a Bill that would impose different percentages north and south of the border. Licensing legislation does not need to be uniform throughout the United Kingdom. The Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland. I imagine that that is because of the complexities of Northern Ireland legislation. The Bill would have been much longer if it applied to Northern Ireland. However, clause 2 applies to Scotland, and states:
"from 'on analysis of to the words '1·2%' there shall be substituted the words 'is of a strength not exceeding 0·5%'."
My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton referred to the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. My copy of that Act may be out of date and it does not contain that wording. It refers to degrees of proof and not to 1·2 per cent.

I wonder whether my hon. Friend has a copy of the amendments to that Act, which was amended in 1971 and 1982 and which I took into account.

I am referring to a copy of the Act, which was reprinted in 1986. I may have misunderstood the position, but the meaning is the same although the wording may be a little different.

With his customary expertise, my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes made an extremely well researched case. Technology is constantly improving. My hon. Friend referred to the Guinness product with 0·05 per cent. alcohol. We should not encourage people to drink to the limit if they are to drive. It is absurd to think that people can work out for themselves whether they are at a level of 78 per cent., 79 per cent. or 80 per cent. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling put some technical points extremely well. In view of the time, I shall not repeat them.

On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton. I am sure that my hon. Friend will have spotted a misprint in Hansard. It says:
"The general feeling is that a bear with an alcoholic content of 0·5 per cent."—[Official Report, 26 January 1990; Vol. 165 c. 1243.]
That raises all sorts of visions. The obvious error is that the word should have been "beer".

I make my final point to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes on amendment No. 4. The point behind my hon. Friend's amendment on point of sale is correct. My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton will advise the House but I do not believe that in terms of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1987, the amendment is necessary.

Has the hon. Gentleman had any information—this is a genuine inquiry—from the brewers about their view on the vexed and complex question of points of sale? Have they a view on that point?

I am sure that the brewers have a view on any legislation of that nature that comes before the House. That point is referred to in the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, which is currently in another place and will be considered by this House later this Session.

All the amendments would result in the Bill being different north and south of the border. That is undesirable. Therefore, I hope that the House agrees that it would be sensible for the excellent Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton to proceed to another place unamended.

I shall not detain the House long on this Bill, which I broadly support. Indeed, the majority of Members of the House support it, although, as it is a Friday, they are not here in great numbers.

I wish to make a general point before I mention the matters dealt with in the amendments. The Opposition believe and have believed for a long time that licensing laws are in something of a mess. The Bill will take a small step towards tidying up one corner of that mess. There should be a much broader inquiry into licensing laws and the problems caused by drinking in many communities.

I agree with all the hon. Members who have spoken that under-age drinking is one of the most serious problems for crime prevention in Britain today. Any of us who live anywhere near even a small urban centre know that it is almost dangerous to go into town and city centres on a Friday or Saturday night if one is a"a respectable person" who hopes to keep out of any trouble. The extent of alcoholism and bad behaviour makes many towns and cities almost no-go areas. If the Bill makes a difference to that, we shall certainly support it.

However, there are serious problems with the Bill. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) referred to some of them in his rather long speech. I am sorry that he is not here to hear my comments on his speech. He mentioned the problem of identifying young people when they buy alcohol to drink on the premises or from a shop. The Government must grasp that problem. We must require proof of identity to drink, and to buy alcohol to take away.

We all know that the law on drinking under 18 is widely disregarded by the young and those who sell alcohol, whether in supermarkets, corner shops or public houses.

I do not seek to delay the hon. Gentleman, but will he concede that that is perhaps a case for the voluntary identification cards for which many of us have pressed for a long time?

Personally I am enamoured of such identification cards. If one wants to enforce the law on drinking under 18, it is logical that there must be some way of identifying who is 18. I have never pushed for the drinking laws that are in force in most of the states of the United States of America where one cannot drink legally until one is 21. I have always campaigned vigorously for implementing the law of drinking at 18 which has been widely disregarded. It is about time that we not only implemented it, but offered an alternative to young people. One problem is that there are few institutions, social occasions or social outlets where young people can drink anything other than alcohol. If the Bill provides a basis to ensure that our young people are not pressurised into drinking high concentrations of alcohol in large numbers, it will be welcome.

The Brewers Society and the major brewers have taken a responsible attitude to informing Members about the Bill, but the Government should reconsider the advertising of alcoholic drinks and the way in which the consumption of alcohol is presented to young people. Much of the targeting of under-age drinkers—of 15-plus rather than 18-plus—is irresponsible.

Again, we must present our young people with a choice and with socially congenial places in which they can mix with others of their own age where they do not feel that getting drunk is incumbent upon them. I am afraid that at the moment many young people believe that there is no alternative.

I have already outlined one of the Opposition's worries about the Bill is an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes. I am sure that when the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) speaks, he will be able to put our minds at rest on the point about the evidence relating to the 0·5 per cent. and 0·05 per cent. alcohol by volume. We believe that the Government must reconsider that point and, having listened to the debate, it is clear that although the scientific evidence has come from only one side of the argument, there is cause for concern about the top-up problem. I am sure that that point can be met because I have always believed that if we can take a firm step in the right direction, it is better to take that step than not to take any steps at all.

With that caveat, I reiterate that the debate has pinpointed some of the real problems of alcoholism and the consumption of alcohol and about what it can do to people's social and family life and to young people if they are encouraged to drink much too early in their lives, when they are not educated. I do not often agree with the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), but she made an excellent point about the need for education about alcohol consumption. Education should teach people to drink sensibly and the lack of such education is all too often at the heart of our concerns about young people. I belong to a generation whose education on this was probably better carried out—and more abruptly. In those days, if someone tried to buy a drink when he was obviously under age, he got short shrift from the landlord who often knew him, his parents and the community as a whole. Unfortunately, that sort of thing does not happen today.

I am glad that the Minister for Roads and Traffic has just come into the Chamber. I have been concerned for many years about drinking and driving. Over the past few years, the low-alcohol option has made a profound difference to drinking and driving. Although I should like other steps to be taken, such as random breath-testing, there is no doubt that the availability of low-alcohol or alcohol-free drinks has made a big difference to the problems for which we must make policy.

We back the Bill warmly and wish it a fair wind. I just hope that the Minister will answer the few questions that have been put to him.

1 pm

I am encouraged by the speech of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). I agree with him that the Bill will help to deal with the problems that worry him. However, it would not be appropriate to discuss them fully at this stage, since we are dealing with amendment No. 8. It will be appropriate, nevertheless, to comment in turn on each of the interesting amendments that are grouped with amendment No. 8.

Amendment No. 8, which was ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), would restore in form, but with a different specification for both original gravity and alcohol by volume, the existing definition of intoxicating liquor in section 201(1) of the Licensing Act 1964. Even though the new specification in my hon. Friend's amendment is the same as the one that my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) has included in his Bill, I am afraid that I cannot commend her amendment to the House. Nevertheless, I appreciate the concern that my hon. Friend expressed that people may be confused about the level of alcohol in certain drinks. That, however, is a matter to be addressed by the labelling rules. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will give close attention to those rules if, as I hope, the Bill reaches the statute book.

The problem created for the manufacturers and retailers of low-alcohol drinks by the existing definition of intoxicating liquor in the 1964 Act cannot, I am afraid, be overcome simply by tinkering with its references to a drink's original gravity and strength in terms of percentage of alcohol by volume, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone would do—as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) so astutely observed in his first and shorter intervention. More fundamental change, of the kind provided for by clause 1 in the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton is essential if these problems are to be resolved satisfactorily.

The present definition of intoxicating liquor in the 1964 Act needs to be changed because of the growing numbers of low and no-alcohol beers and wines now coming on to the market. Some of my hon. Friends referred to that problem. Broadly speaking, the Licensing Act 1964 prohibits the retail sale of intoxicating liquor in England and Wales without a justice's licence. It also makes it an offence for a licensee to sell intoxicating liquor to someone under 18 years of age. Intoxicating liquor is defined in the Act as spirits, wine, beer, cider and any other fermented, distilled, or spiritous liquor.

However, the definition goes on to exclude from licensing controls any liquor which is found, on an analysis of a sample thereof, at any time to be of an original gravity not exceeding 1016 deg and of a strength not exceeding 1·2 per cent. alcohol by volume. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone would therefore leave the underlying problem as it is.

The interpretation of the law is, of course, a matter for the courts, but in the absence of a ruling from them on the point we have taken the view that this definition brings within the scope of intoxicating liquor a considerable number of the low and no-alcohol drinks now on the market. This is because they are produced, in the main, from full strength brews from which some, or nearly all, of the alcohol is then taken out. Such drinks may, when they are sold, contain less than 1·2 per cent. alcohol.

Some, like Kaliber and Barbican, may even qualify for the term "alcohol-free" because they have an alcoholic strength by volume at point of sale of less than 0·05 per cent., as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes told us at some length this morning. Nevertheless, the inclusion in the present definition of intoxicating liquor of the reference to an original gravity not exceeding 1016 deg and the words "at any time" mean, we believe, that they must be regarded as intoxicating liquor for licensing purposes.

The existing definition of intoxicating liquor was drawn up before low and no-alcohol drinks were produced and promoted, certainly on the scale that they are now. There must be considerable doubt that it was ever intended to have the effect it has in relation to low and no alcohol drinks.

My hon. Friend will have heard the comments that clause 3 of the Bill means that it does not apply to Northern Ireland. He is an expert on the constitutional arrangements that affect Northern Ireland. Do the Government intend to move an Order in Council that would make the provisions of the Bill apply to Northern Ireland?

The Northern Ireland Licensing Act 1971 is not amended by the Bill. It is a transferred matter that should be dealt with by Order in Council as has been the custom since direct rule. If the Bill reaches the statute book, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be considering sympathetically whether he should bring Northern Ireland legislation into line.

There is, therefore, general agreement that the Bill my hon. Friend, the Member for Honiton, has introduced is a timely and sensible measure, although there were some questions about exactly how he should present it.

One of the fundamental changes my hon. Friend is seeking to make to the definition of intoxicating liquor is to ensure that, in future, the test to be applied when considering whether a liquor licence is required before a particular product can be sold is its alcoholic strength at point of sale—not how strong it once was at some stage in the process of its manufacture.

Such a change would end some of the anomalies to which the present law can give rise—for example, the situation in which some drinks containing between 0·05 per cent. and 1·2 per cent. alcohol at point of sale may be sold without a licence because in the course of their manufacture their original gravities did not exceed 1016 deg and their strengths 1·2 per cent. while others of comparable, or even weaker, strengths at point of sale may not, because when they were being produced, one or both of the limits specified by the law were exceeded.

For that reason, clause 1 of my hon. Friend's Bill seeks in effect to delete from the present definition of intoxicating liquor the references to the original gravity of a drink and the words "at any time". I see my hon. Friend nodding in agreement.

It is essential, if the purpose of clarifying this area of the law and ending the anomalies to which it can at present give rise is to be achieved, that those words no longer appear in that context. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and spoken to with her characteristic energy would, I regret, reintroduce the offending words into the definition of intoxicating liquor in the 1964 Act and thereby perpetuate the confusion and amomalies that she and the Bill are seeking to remove.

I hope that my reply and the arguments to come of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton will prove sufficient to persuade her to withdraw, if she is still here to do so.

I now turn to the three amendments relating to alcoholic strength thresholds: amendment No. 1 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, amendment No. 9 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and amendment No. 10 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell).

In our consideration of the issue, we have been most concerned to look very closely at what, if the law were to be changed, should be the new threshold—that is the percentage alcohol by volume it would be safe to permit in drinks which could, in future, be sold without a licence. That concern was central to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Huddersfield. It would mean, for example, that such drinks could be retailed freely from unlicensed premises such as sweet shops, grocers and corner stores.

I intervene to raise an issue that has been raised in the past by the Scottish Consumer Council which said:

"Much has been made, in Parliament and elsewhere, of a recent study by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys on under age drinking, which suggests that many young people do buy alcohol over the counter in various types of off-licenses. However, that study did not distinguish between small shops"—
which the Minister mentioned—
"and large supermarkets as a source of illegal sales. Amongst 17 year old boys in the survey, twice as many said they bought alcohol from off-licenses as from other types of shops, and evidence from other sources suggested that large national supermarkets were less likely to sell alcohol to minors than some small shops."
It concludes:
"Despite all that, the government decided earlier this year to back legislation which singled out the larger supermarkets and their customers for attention. That measure failed because of its impracticality. However it seems as though supermarkets and their customers are still in the government's sights."
Will the Minister clarify whether supermarkets are still in the Government's sights?

I confirm that the problems of under-age drinking are in the Government's sights. The problems are extremely complex, partly for the reasons implied by the hon. Gentleman, such as the variety of sources of drink. I shall not go down that path now, although I have registered the point that the hon. Gentleman made.

The Bill aims to tackle the problems positively and makes available to youth clubs and other organisations where young people congregate the possibility of supplying a range of non-alcoholic or low-alcohol drinks, which they could not otherwise do, with the expectation and hope that at least some of the excessive under-age drinking can be diverted or diminished. It also aims to enable non-alcoholic or low-alcohol drinks to be freely sold in premises that already had justices' licences, such as public houses, hotels, off-licences and supermarkets. We have always recognised that this is a fairly complex question to which there is no simple answer. It seemed to us right that what might be termed the medical considerations should be paramount when deciding the right threshold to adopt.

We therefore sought advice from the Department of Health on the issue. The advice that we received was that the most immediate concern is the short-term intoxicating effect of alcohol on young people. That is not to say that the possibility of long-term health consequences owing to chronic misuse of alcohol was not acknowledged, but rather that the short-term effects of consuming alcohol were considered more important for the purpose of this exercise.

We were advised that the most important short-term physical effect of consuming any alcoholic drink is to produce a rise in blood-alcohol level. The higher the blood-alcohol level, the greater the risk of harm to the individual concerned. No alcoholic beverage can be said to be completely safe; even low-alcohol drinks will produce some rise in blood-alcohol level when consumed.

The eventual level of blood-alcohol achieved will depend upon a variety of factors. First, the concentration of alcohol in the beverage; secondly, how much is drunk and how quickly; thirdly, the body weight of the drinker and whether the person concerned is male or female; fourthly, whether the drink is accompanied by food; fifthly, the extent to which the drinker is accustomed to alcohol; and, sixthly, individual differences in body chemistry.

Setting aside the separate question of whether the consumption of a low-alcohol drink is likely to affect the attitude to alcohol in general of the young person concerned—that was the gist of part of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone—and concentrating simply on the physical effects of consumption, we were advised that it was necessary to take certain steps to make a judgment about the maximum percentage of alcohol which should be permitted in drinks that were to be made freely available from unlicensed premises.

It is first necessary to decide what is the maximum level of blood alcohol which would be regarded as acceptable in a young person. The advice that we were given was that 20 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood was an acceptable upper figure in this context. The legal limit for driving is 80 mg per 100 ml—four times as high.

Secondly, sensible, arbitrary assumptions have to be made about the various factors that influence eventual levels of blood alcohol. I said earlier that those must be based on the likely pattern of the social use of low-alcohol beverages by young people. A minority of young people may consume such drinks to get drunk. If that is actually what they are intent on doing, it seems more likely that they will choose full-strength drinks from one or other sources from which they may obtain them.

Forgive my curiosity and inquisitiveness, but where does that Home Office advice come from? I am sure that it is good, but I was asked from where it came.

1.15 pm

I had hoped that I had mentioned that. It comes from the Department of Health, the opinion of which will be the distillation of the medical advice it has received which, in turn, will be a distillation of the research and opinions of outside experts. The Home Office bases its advice on those contributions. We do not pretend to be experts on this matter. I would be surprised if there was any substantial expert on the subject whose opinions were not known to the Department and, therefore, had not influenced its opinion.

There is a wide range of opinions on these matters. We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes about Professor Li Wan Po. Research has also been undertaken by the university at Frankfurt and Charing Cross hospital that suggests that 0·5 per cent. alcohol beer—the upper limit in my hon. Friend's Bill—does not raise blood-alcohol level because the alcohol is metabolised by the body faster than it can be consumed. There is a wide range of opinion among the experts. I am providing a distillation of those opinions by the experts in the Department of Health, rather than representing any one, specific, expert view.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), having spoken for an unconscionable number of minutes, does not do his own Minister the courtesy of at least coming to hear the answer. Such behaviour does the House of Commons no credit.

The hon. Gentleman has referred to some of the courtesies of the House. As he knows, they are not matters for the Chair.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes has been drawn from the Chamber for a few minutes by an important cause.

I shall continue with the assumptions that have to be made when coming to a decision about what constitutes a reasonable threshold in law.

It would be reasonable to assume that the majority of young people will seldom drink more than an average of two pints in one hour, six pints in three hours or eight pints in four hours. The percentage of alcohol by volume it would be safe to permit in drinks which are to be freed from licensing restrictions would then be a figure that would allow a typical young person to consume a reasonable quantity of such drink without exceeding a blood alcohol concentration of 20 mg per 100 ml of blood. Various methods exist to make such a calculation, all of which are approximate. The particular method on which the advice we were given was based uses as an example a young drinker who is a 15-year-old girl, 4ft 6in tall, weighs 5 stones and whose habitual consumption is one pint of 0·5 per cent. alcohol beer per week. That is probably not representative of any hon. Member, except my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone who, I am glad, is in her place.

Drinking 1 per cent. beer, two pints in an hour without food would produce a blood alcohol level of 30 mg per 100 ml. That is above the limit regarded as acceptable and leads me to advise the House against accepting the amendment put down by my hon. Friend, the Member for Gedling, although he made his point persuasively and intelligently. As he said, his is a probing amendment, and I hope that my answer will satisfy him.

Drinking 0·5 per cent. beer, the young girl in this example could consume up to six pints over three hours without any food and still remain within the acceptable blood alcohol level of 20 mg. Of course, the threshold for which my hon. Friend, the Member for Honiton has made provision in his Bill is that very one, of 0·5 per cent. Drinking 0·05 per cent. beer, the one recommended by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, it would be virtually impossible for the young lady to exceed the acceptable limit of 20 mg. Even if she drank 32 pints in one hour, her blood alcohol concentration would still be only 15 mg.

It is clear from all this that the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes and Hendon, South deserve the most careful consideration by the House. However, on the basis of the medical evidence that we have received at the Home Office, the Government see no compelling reason why the threshold should be set as low as these amendments provide.

Moreover, if the amendments were to be accepted, only a very few alcohol-free beers would be freed from licensing restrictions. Most low-alcohol beers and virtually all de-alcoholised wines would remain subject to the licensing regime. It seems to us, therefore, that in making provision in the Bill for a threshold of 0·5 per cent. alcohol by volume, my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton has got it about right. The Bill, as presently drafted, would free from the licensing requirement some 10 or so low-alcohol beers and all de-alcoholised wines. The latter, to qualify for that description under labelling law, must not exceed 0·5 per cent. alcohol by volume, which is the figure used in the Bill.

Amendment No. 2, which has also been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes, seeks to delete the words:
"at the time of the sale or other conduct in question."
My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, the promotor of the Bill, has chosen to include the words
"at the time of the sale or other conduct in question"
in the revised definition of intoxicating liquor in section 201(1) of the Licensing Act 1964 for which the Bill provides. I understand my hon. Friend's desire to clear up once and for all the confusion to which the inclusion in the present definition of intoxicating liquor of the words "at any time" has given rise. Intoxicating liquor is there defined as
"spirits, wine, beer … cider … and any other fermented, distilled or spiritous liquor".
However, the definition goes on to exclude any liquor which is found, on an analysis of a sample thereof at any time, to be of an original gravity not exceeding 1016 deg and of a strength not exceeding 1·2 per cent. alcohol by volume.

The interpretation of the law is a matter for the courts. However, in the absence of a ruling from them on the point, we have taken the view that the inclusion of the present definition and the words "at any time" would serve to bring a considerable number of the low and no-alcohol drinks that would be released on to the market within the scope of that definition. I appreciate what my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes seeks to do, although my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton has advised the House that it would not be desirable to accept amendment No. 2. If we did accept it, I believe that it would probably make little difference to the effectiveness of the Bill.

Amendment No. 4, also tabled by my indefatigable hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes seeks to bring the revised Scottish definition of alcoholic liquor into line with the equivalent English definition by adding the words:
"at the time of the sale or other conduct in question."

The hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) is not indefatigable enough to come to hear the Minister's answers. That is disreputable and I hope that the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, has his own thoughts on that.

Amendment No. 4 would not be as helpful as I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes intended it to be, as the additional words would seriously impair the proper operation of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. To expand the Scottish definition in that way would render the point of sale or "other conduct in question" as the material time for determining the alcoholic strength of liquor. The amended definition would confuse interpretation and enforcement of Scottish licensing law which, at present, eschews all reference to material or other times. In particular, I am advised that the amendment would handicap the prosecution of various offences under the 1976 Act such as unlicensed trafficking in liquor or under-age consumption of liquor in a bar. I hope that my hon. Friend, if he returns to the Chamber in time, will be persuaded to withdraw the amendment, or at least not to push it to a vote, if that was his previous intention. I hope that I have managed to deal with all the major points in the debate. I hope that the House will accept the Bill as drafted.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Under-Secretary has made a carefully thought-out speech on a subject that is important to a great many people throughout Britain. An unconscionable amount of time was occupied by the hon. Members for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) and for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), yet they did not even have the courtesy to be present to hear what the Minister had to say. I shall leave manners out of this because such behaviour goes beyond manners; it brings great discredit on the House of Commons. I shall write formally to the Chairman of the Procedure Committee to draw his attention to exactly what has happened today.

The hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to the normal courtesies of the House, and I am glad that he has done so but as I have already said, this is not a matter over which the Chair has authority.

On a related point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should explain that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) approached me courteously before he left to express his regret that he could not be here to hear my response to the debate.

First, let me join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) on his luck in the ballot and on his good sense in promoting the Bill.

If brevity be the spice of wit, there has been little wit about our proceedings this morning. although we have had some wisdom, some academic learning and a great deal of concern about the impact of alcohol on society. The very fact that we are debating the Bill reflects strongly on social trends over the past 20 years. Twenty years ago, we might even have been laughed out of court because for someone to say then that he would not have a drink because he was driving was regarded as almost effete. Today, the folly of drinking and driving is recognised by virtually everyone. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for his work when he was Minister for Roads and Traffic and to the present incumbent of the post, who is in his place and happy to be listening to our debate today. We are pleased to have my hon. Friend here because he is the true representative of the red rose of England—unlike those politicians who have merely hijacked the red rose for their temporary electoral advantage.

The problems of under-age drinking are of great concern. Several hon. Members have related under-age drinking to the problem of crime. It is a fact that people are most likely to commit crime at the age of 15 or 16. That may well reflect the tedium of the last year at school, but it also reflects the cost and folly of under-age drinking.

The second problem to which I wish to refer briefly is that of drinking and driving. We have had much discussion of whether taking that extra draught of low-alcohol beer might push someone over the limit. It must be said that many people who are well below the breathalyser limit are a menace on the roads because the alcohol that they have consumed has made them less safe drivers than they would otherwise be. Those of us who speak in such terms, do not wish to be killjoys. We merely seek to get rid of unnecessary, unwanted accidents.

As the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said, my hon. Friend the Minister made a moving and wise speech, and in an effort to help the House to make progress I should say that I propose not to press my amendment.

I remind the House that I have a properly declared interest in Scottish and Newcastle Breweries. Also some years ago I had the good fortune to train as a counsellor in alcohol-related problems, and I hope that my credentials in the field are not questioned by the House. I have a particular understanding of the problems that alcohol misuse can cause and that understanding is certainly shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who spoke on behalf of the Brewers Society, and by members of that society collectively and individually. Brewers are in the business of providing pleasure and creating the environment in which their products can be enjoyed properly. They have no interest in sending people out of public houses roaring drunk to cause public affray or to climb into cars and cause accidents. That is the worst possible publicity. It is for precisely that reason that the Brewers Society has invested enormous sums of money in education programmes targeted at young people who are certainly at risk. That is also why it has invested many millions of pounds in the development of the products that we have been discussing all morning and that are referred to in the Bill.

1.30 pm

There has been and there remains a major problem with under-age drinking. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) referred to that earlier in the debate. He criticised my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) for leaving the Chamber, but I see that he, too has now left the Chamber.

My hon. Friend has left the Chamber on my behalf with a message and will be back directly.

Perhaps sometimes one should look at the beam in one's own eye before criticising the mote in another's. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes has equally pressing business in his constituency. We all understood and seek to observe the courtesies of the House, whether or not the cameras are upon us, and whether or not we wish that our Bills might have been reached.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow referred to the difficulties that publicans face over identification. It is hard for a publican to differentiate in a crowd of people who are 15, 16, 17 or 18.

I was pleased that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) was able to acknowledge the proposal—which some hon. Members been putting forward for some time—that it would be enormously helpful to people running licensed houses, among others, to have available an officially recognised national but voluntary identity card scheme. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will accept that. It would be better to have one organised, recognised, national scheme rather than a plethora of amateur schemes, but that is not the subject of this debate.

The problems of low-alcohol and non-alcoholic beers have been fully discussed this morning. It is a fact that, as the law stands, until it is changed by the Bill there is an anomaly relating to the production of low-alcohol beers and to the reference in the Bill to "at any time" during the process. That has meant two things: first, that outlets supplying young people have been unable to supply those products; and, secondly, that the legislation has favoured imported products, in which the gravity at the point of sale is known but the alcohol content or gravity reached during production is not known. I can think of one German brand which has benefited—I shall not publicise it by naming it—whereas others produced to an excellent standard in this country have failed.

Considerable technical problems exist in the reduction of alcohol to low and non-alcoholic levels. It is a fact that the flavour of products which contained alcohol during the production process but which are reduced to non-alcoholic standards suffer. For that reason and given the enormous growth in that market to which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood referred, the major slice of that growth has been in low-alcohol beers rather than in non-alcoholic beers. It would be a tremendous shame if the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) in her excellent speech and amendment No. 1 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes were accepted and the level was reduced to the point that unpalatable products were offered to people who might want to buy low-alcohol beers. They might prefer a better taste and therefore purchase beers with a much higher alcohol level and in that respect I am thinking in particular of the young.

I shall refer to an incident in my constituency, and I am sure that all hon. Members will have had similar experiences. Representatives of the Cabin youth club approached me a couple of years ago with the same problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) is seeking to solve with his Bill today.

Those representatives told me that, by implication, they had many young members under the age of 18 who liked to have a drink. They told me that those young people enjoyed low-alcohol beers and lagers and that Kent county council had told them that they could not supply those drinks because the youth club was not licensed. Because those beers and lagers reached a prohibited limit during their manufacture, although that limit did not apply now, the club could not sell them. I raised the matter with Kent county council and was informed, correctly, that the council was operating the law properly. I was told that my local youth club could not supply the young people with the product that they wanted. The result—something to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred earlier—was that the young people, who were quite happy to mix and meet in that largely non-alcoholic environment, went instead to local pubs because they wanted a pint of beer. The law had precisely the opposite effect to that which we all wanted.

I hope that the amendments will be withdrawn or rejected because I would hate to see a counter-productive measure introduced into what is otherwise an excellent Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton on his Bill. I wish it God speed and I hope that it reaches the statute book very soon.

As a sponsor of the Bill, I must tell the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that my earlier absence from the Chamber—I was present at the beginning of the debate—occurred because I was carrying out duties that Scots frequently have to carry out on Fridays. I had to do my stint on television and radio and I am sure that the hon. Member for Linlithgow does his share of that. Inevitably that duty required me to leave the Chamber.

As so many hon. Members have said, the Bill will go a long way towards dealing with the ghastly problem facing us today of the young who cannot find a place in which they can have refreshments without infringing the law. Reference was made to the possibility of an identity card system. When I was young, people under the age of 18 were not a problem. Those of us over 18 were usually in uniform and those who were not carried identity cards. There was no problem about access to premises. However, things change.

When I was under 18 I participated in activities where there was no drink. However, the pattern of life has changed. If someone wants to run a disco he cannot do so without a licence if he wants to offer any light refreshment of the low-alcohol strength that the youngsters want.

The problem has grown progressively worse over the years, because—sadly—more and more young people are infringing the l