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Deregulation (Methylated Spirits Sale By Retail) (Scotland) Order 1998

Volume 590: debated on Friday 19 June 1998

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1.14 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th May be approved [21st Report from the Deregulation Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order, if approved, will amend the Methylated Spirits (Sale by Retail)(Scotland) Act 1937 to remove certain requirements presently imposed on the retailers of methylated and surgical spirit in Scotland. This Act has no counterpart in England and Wales.

The 1937 Act requires retailers of methylated spirits and surgical spirits to be registered with the local authority and for each sale to be entered in a book kept by the retailer for that purpose. There is also a requirement for all bottles or other vessels in which methylated or surgical spirits are sold to bear a label identifying the contents and specifying the name of the seller and the premises on which they are sold. The Act also places restrictions on the sale of these substances to children under 14 years of age.

The Methylated Spirits (Sale by Retail)(Scotland) Act 1937 was introduced to address a specific social problem of the time. In the 1930s the drinking of crude spirits in Scotland was a considerable social problem. Methylated spirits in particular was seen as a cheap alternative to more expensive forms of alcohol. This problem has long since disappeared in Scotland. There has been no record of any person being proceeded against over the past 20 years where the main offence was a breach of regulations under the 1937 Act. The registration and record-keeping requirements are therefore now considered to place an unnecessary burden on retailers and local authorities.

In keeping with the statutory requirements we consulted widely about whether to remove the perceived administrative burden. The majority response to our consultation showed that there was overwhelming support for removing the recording and registration requirements.

However, responses to our consultation also revealed general support for the retention of the restrictions on the sale of methylated and surgical spirits to children. That is perfectly understandable at a time when we are increasingly concerned about substance misuse by our young people. We have therefore decided to retain these safeguards which prohibit the sale of such spirits to children under the age of 14 unless the seller is an authorised seller of poisons or the methylated or surgical spirits are supplied by a medical practitioner.

Thus we have derived a proposal which strikes the right balance. It removes unnecessary bureaucratic restrictions but continues to offer protection to children from the dangers of the inflammable liquid and from the risks of ingestion.

Your Lordships are aware of the special procedures enabling Parliament to consider the substance of proposed orders under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. In line with these procedures, this order has been subject to thorough public consultation and has been carefully scrutinised by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, which has recommended its approval. It has also been similarly considered in another place and has been approved by colleagues there. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 18th May be approved [ 21st Report from the Deregulation Committee].—( Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation of this order. In a number of areas she has allayed any concerns that I felt prior to hearing her speak. I was particularly glad to learn that the rules as regards children under the age of 14 years have not been relaxed. There is one point on which I would like further clarification. Can she tell me whether during consultation there were any responses from alcohol misuse organisations expressing concern? From what the noble Baroness said, I understood that there were not. If she can confirm that I shall be most grateful. I support the order.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Earl's support for this order. Out of the 43 responses received to the consultation paper, eight supported full repeal of the 1937 Act; 28 favoured partial repeal of that Act, which is being done; and seven respondents were opposed to any change. Of those seven respondents I believe that there was one from an alcohol misuse committee.

Those respondents who were opposed to change were unable to present any evidence to suggest that removing the present restrictions would result in a return to what, as I indicated in opening, was a uniquely Scottish problem of the 1920s and 1930s. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that lifting the restrictions would result in a recurrence of the problem. Drinking crude spirits was a problem at a time when other forms of alcohol were comparatively expensive. That is no longer the case. Sadly, the problems of alcohol abuse are still with us, but they are not caused by the consumption of crude spirits. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.