Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)
97: Clause 26, page 24, line 44, at end insert—
“(d) in sub-paragraph (4) the words “shall be presumed to have been so” are omitted”
The point of the amendment is to ensure that all licensing conditions are clearly presented for everyone concerned to see. Whether they are standard or specific, we believe that they should appear in the licence so that not only the licensee but members of the public know exactly what are the constraints of the licence. Further, as it is necessary to display the licence, members of the public should be quite clear and should not be presumed to have any specialist knowledge of what an authority has decided in principle. The Bill as drafted leaves the possibility for a licence to be too vague. I beg to move.
The objective of Amendment 97, which would amend paragraph 13(4) of Schedule 3 to the 1982 Act, seems to be to ensure that the local authority sets out the conditions on the face of the licence. Although I can understand the intention behind the amendment, the Government are not aware of any issues arising from the existing wording that has been used for sex shops, sex cinemas or sex encounter establishments in London since 1982.
As I understand it, where local authorities do not place conditions in the licence, they will in many cases make reference to them in the licence and provide applicants with a copy. We also expect all local authorities to publish standard conditions on the internet. In any event, any person can request a copy of the standard conditions from the local authority, and the local authority must provide a copy of the same on payment of a reasonable fee. However, if the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, is aware of any evidence to show that there is a problem with the current arrangements, we would be happy to consider her amendment further.
That is very kind of the Minister; I will go away to seek evidence, which will probably be quite hard to find, as this has not yet come into effect. I still think that, as a matter of principle, expecting members of public to search on the internet is not as satisfactory as including the conditions in the licence. I have not really heard from the Minister a good reason why they should not be in the licence, but I shall consider what he said and, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 97 withdrawn.
98: Clause 26, page 24, line 45, after “applications)” insert—
We believe that it would be inappropriate for local authorities to use a new licensing regime as a revenue-raising vehicle. Instead, licensing fees should cover only the administrative costs of the licensing application to the licensing authority. As Clause 26 stands, local authorities would be able to set the annual cost of the sex encounter venue licence at any rate that they deemed reasonable.
To put that into context, charges for the equivalent sex encounter establishment licence, which provides the blueprint, vary between £300 and £30,000 annually, depending on which local authority you happen to find yourself in. Clearly, the parameters of what is reasonable are very wide. The cost of the licence will be additional to the club's premises licence, which is required for the sale of alcohol. It would at least be useful to hear from the Minister how he imagines that the rate for the licence will be set.
Having said all that, we also believe it to be reasonable that there is freedom for local authorities to have sufficient latitude to reflect their needs in their fees. The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982 states only that an applicant for a licence shall pay a reasonable fee determined by the appropriate authority, so I would be interested to hear the Government’s thinking on the fees matter. I beg to move.
I am delighted to agree with the noble Baroness, as the Government also take the view that the application fee for licensing should not be a profit-making operation or be raising revenue. We do not go as far as the amendment, which says that there should only be an administrative fee. We understand why the noble Baroness has raised the issue and are aware that the matter of fees for sex establishment licences causes some concern among lap-dancing operators.
However, the Government do not believe that this amendment is necessary to protect applicants from undue charges. While “reasonable fees” are not defined in the 1982 Act, direction on how local government should calculate charges is provided elsewhere, in the form of the HM Treasury guidance on fees. That guide makes it clear that fees should reflect the cost of providing the service and should not be used to generate a profit; that is, I believe, the chief concern of the lap-dancing industry.
We are aware that sex establishment licences can vary depending on the local authority area. That, however, reflects the fact that costs can vary from area to area. In those circumstances, the local authority has the flexibility to set fees to accept those variations. Further guidance will be provided by the services directive, Article 13(2) of which states that,
“charges which the applicants may incur from their application shall be reasonable and proportionate to the cost of the authorisation procedures in question and shall not exceed the cost of the procedures”.
The Government believe that the services directive and the guidance issued by HM Treasury will provide sufficient protection against undue or excessive local authority charges for lap-dancing operators. Obviously, where licence holders have genuine concerns regarding the level of fees charged by local authorities, they will be able to challenge the fee structure by way of a judicial review. I hope that information will help the noble Baroness to consider withdrawing her amendment.
Amendment 98 withdrawn.
Amendment 99 not moved.
100: Clause 26, page 25, line 26, at end insert—
“( ) Paragraph 27(3) is repealed.”
Perhaps I might make the contribution that I would have if this had been more formally spoken to, because that might give us an edge on the debate. I support the amendment; the lack of appeal against the refusal of a licence on those two grounds is worrying, especially in the case of a refused renewal. Again, we have touched on this as we have gone through; the failure to renew a licence will mean the abrupt closure of a business, with the accompanying loss of jobs and revenue. To make that decision without the possibility of an appeal would be deeply unfair, and the possibility of such a step happening in the case of the arbitrary quotas highlights our concerns with that aspect of the provisions.
Will there be any objective assessment of the evidence on which the quota is set, or will the authority be able to pluck a number out of thin air or even amend it at will to close down a licence application without having to come up with a good reason?
The power to shut down discussion on the ground of the character of the locality also has the potential to be abused, so surely it would be more productive to see whether the concerns about the layout of the venue could be addressed before rejecting an application. The Minister, in response to a previous amendment, talked about lap-dancing places being next door to a church or a school or in a village where there has been none. Those are the areas that we need to consider. There seems to be no mechanism in the legislation by which to appeal against a decision to close a venue because of a quota. The Minister might like to comment on that.
Amendments 100 and 101 deal with the rights of applicants to appeal to a magistrates’ court against a decision taken by a local authority to refuse, to grant or to renew a licence for a sex establishment.
Schedule 3 rules out the possibility of an appeal to a magistrates’ court where a licence is refused on the grounds that the number of sex establishments in the locality is already equal to or exceeds the number that the local authority considers appropriate, or that the grant or renewal would be inappropriate given the character of the locality. This does not leave the applicant without redress. Instead, such decisions can be challenged in a judicial review.
Parliament obviously took the view that this was the appropriate approach when it passed the 1982 Act. Schedule 3 to that Act is designed specifically to regulate sex establishments. Due to the particular entertainment that such venues provide, the Act recognises the need to equip local authorities with sufficient powers to manage the impact that sex establishments have on local communities. The Act gives local authorities the power to impose limits on the number of sex establishments in a locality or to refuse to grant a licence if they believe this to be necessary to protect the character of the locality.
In making these decisions, the local authority is required to use its discretion and judge what are and are not suitable locations for sex establishments. Given the nature of the judgments which the local authority will be required to make when deciding an application, we consider judicial review to be the appropriate mechanism by which to challenge these decisions because of the margin of appreciation that the court will accord to local authorities when deciding whether the decision ought to be upheld, as opposed simply to substituting its view for that of the local authority.
I appreciate the concerns enunciated by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, in our debates on this and previous amendments about the rights of applicants to appeal in a judicial review decisions taken by local authorities, but I hope that my comments have reassured both her and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, to the extent that the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, feels able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for his reply, and I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, for speaking so ably to my amendment; I cannot explain where my notes have disappeared to. The Minister’s reply was helpful, and I will read it in detail. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 100 withdrawn.
Amendment 101 not moved.
102: Clause 26, page 25, line 30, at end insert—
“( ) After paragraph 27 (appeals) insert—
“Premises which are deemed sex encounter venues27A (1) This paragraph applies if—
(a) premises are subject to a licence for a sex encounter venue; and(b) their use would be use as such a venue but for the operation of paragraph 2A(3)(b).(2) This Schedule applies as if—
(a) the premises were a sex encounter venue; and(b) the use or business of the premises was use as, or the business of, such a venue.(3) But the appropriate authority must cancel the licence if the holder of the licence asks them in writing to do so.
(4) In this paragraph “premises” has the same meaning as in paragraph 2A.””
Amendment 102 agreed.
Amendment 103 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 26, as amended, agreed.
Schedule 3 agreed.
Clause 27 : Increase in penalty for offence
Debate on whether Clause 27 should stand part of the Bill.
In opposing the inclusion of the clause, I in no way seek to weaken the ability of the police to take effective measures against irresponsible drinking and the violent behaviour to which it often leads. The link between the two is clear, and we would welcome effective measures to combat the sort of behaviour that blights communities. However, this is not an effective measure. Of all the clauses in the Bill, this one illustrates most clearly what is wrong not only with the Government’s policies to prevent crime and tackle criminal behaviour but with their chosen methods of implementation. The Government have had to admit that there is a problem. Neither the number of people who are receiving fines for this offence or the crime statistics indicating the level of alcohol-related violent crime are falling. Instead, they are increasing.
The Government’s policies to address the problem that they helped to create with their 24-hour boozing culture are not working and this offence is not proving to be a deterrent; so the Government come forward with their solution—they will increase the maximum possible fine from £500 to £2,500 in the hope that this will, and I quote, “send a message”. They hope that the possibility of being on the receiving end of a really significant fine will make an impression where the £500 limit does not. This sort of thinking shows just how much government policy-makers are living in fantasyland. Do they imagine that people get drunk and violent after careful consideration of what fine might be imposed? Do they imagine that anyone out drinking in the streets early on a Saturday morning knows or cares what the maximum penalty for this offence is?
We all know that the existing £500 limit has never been used. The number of people who have received a fine above £200 for this offence is in single figures. So who are the Government trying to send this clear and strong message to? The literature would suggest that they are trying to reach the people on whom the fine will be levied, but in the debates in another place, the Under-Secretary of State admitted that it was, in fact, to send a message to the police and the CPS. It comes as some surprise to this side of the Committee that the only method of communication the Home Office had with these departments was through primary legislation.
I would be interested to hear from the Minister what direct conversations have been held with the police as to the necessity or desirability, or point, of raising this fine, and as to the possibility of using the maximum level as it is already set.
There is much more that could be done to address problem drinking; more attention must be given to alcohol referral schemes, in particular. Levying ever heavier fines on a person with a drinking problem will not cure him. I see this clause as entirely unnecessary and, by giving the impression of running while the Government are, in fact, standing still, it is actively unhelpful.
We agree with the sentiments here, in that the idea of simply raising the level of fine to a really quite disproportionate level will do nothing to solve the problem. We think the Government have been right to concentrate on the problem, but, as we said at Second Reading, it is not possible to legislate your way out of the binge-drinking culture that is causing so much of the problem.
The Government have put a number of things in place which we would say are good. For example, last year and I think into this year, the Home Office has run a series of workshops, which I might come back to and speak in more detail about later, aimed at all sorts of sections of not only those who sell alcohol, but also those who are trying to improve community safety. Those workshops have barely had time to take effect, in the training they have given people, for example. There have been other tools that the Government have come up with. They have their youth alcohol action plan, for example, which is a mixture of education, enforcement and action with industry and, again, that is a commendable idea.
So at one level, the Government understand that this is a matter of education and working across a very broad spectrum of people, from the industry itself to community leaders and the police, and that it is not just a question of fines. In fact, those on whom the fines are likely to be levied are unlikely to be able to pay them at this level, which will then lead to further criminal proceedings. That is not a particularly desirable outcome when it ends up with those people in prison, costing the taxpayer an absolute arm and a leg, without the problem really being solved. I hope that, during discussions on this part of the Bill, we can come to a better understanding of what the solution should be.
I support what has been said about this clause. The Minister will know very well that the binge-drinking culture is a social problem and not a manifestation of a lack of deterrents. As the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has said, substantial moves are already underfoot for the necessary educational programme that might have an influence. It is impossible that a message-sending type of legislation will have any effect on the decisions made by people going out on a binge-drinking night. It is an unfortunate consequence that, if the fine is so high that they cannot pay it, they get imprisoned for default.
This provision will apply in a designated public place. Will the Minister tell the Committee how those who are drunk will know whether the place in which they are drunk is designated and, therefore, whether this legislation applies? I am sure that I should know the answer to that, but I am afraid that I do not.
In his reply, perhaps the Minister will give us an idea of what lies behind this. As I understand it, the sections in the 2001 Act that have implemented the fines in the designated areas have not been in for all that long. There has probably been very little opportunity for anyone to find out whether the designated areas are working and whether the fines are adequate. It probably is also worth remembering that in the court system fines are appropriate to a person’s income. Quite a lot of people who indulge in binge drinking will not have a very high income, so it will not make the slightest difference whether they are fined a maximum of £500 or £2,500. It will still be at a level which is appropriate to what they are deemed to be able to afford. Perhaps the Minister will give us a view of his thinking so that perhaps before he finishes we may come back to this if necessary.
As we move from sex to alcohol, I am reminded of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who wished to declare an interest on the second day in Committee, although I do not know whether he did. I suppose that I should declare an interest: I find that, within proper bounds, in the correct circumstances and in moderation, alcohol is rather enjoyable. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, saying that I know full well the effects of having too much alcohol perhaps is a little more than I would have declared.
Clause 27 increases the maximum fine for refusing to comply with a police officer’s instructions to stop drinking—a person might or might not be very drunk—and/or to surrender alcohol—again, a person might or might not be very drunk—in a person’s possession in a designated public place, to which I shall return in a minute, from £500, a level 2 fine, to £2,500, a level 4 fine. An offence is committed when a person fails to comply with police instructions to do that. I said that a person might not necessarily be very drunk and a couple of speakers have talked about that already. He is liable to a penalty notice disorder, a PND, and, on summary conviction, to a maximum fine of, at the moment, £500. Increasing the maximum fine for this offence will bring it in line with the maximum penalty for a similar offence of failing to comply with directions to leave. So this fine will not be out on its own.
Since 2001, local authorities have implemented 712 designated public place orders, DPPOs, throughout England and Wales. This clearly shows that local authorities support this power and believe that it will tackle the disorder and nuisance associated with alcohol consumption. In areas where a DPPO is in effect, local authorities must put up signs to show the public that they are in a DPPO and to show the maximum penalty. In a sense, the fact that the DPPO signs are there answers the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. You could argue that if a person is very drunk, he or she will not be able to read, but this is aimed at people at all stages of intoxication. Those who might be tempted to ignore a police officer’s instructions to stop drinking or surrender alcohol may reconsider their actions if they think they will be prosecuted for a fine of up to £2,500.
So far the maximum of £500 has not been used; it has been percentages of that. Putting it up to £2,500 shows all those involved, and those imposing the penalties, how seriously we take this. A percentage of the £2,500 could be way over the £500. Even if the fines do not reach the maximum, the clause will send a clear message to deter the type of alcohol-related disorder and nuisance that we see in these areas.
The noble Baroness asked what happens if they are absolutely screaming drunk. I am afraid that when people get to that stage nothing makes a difference. There are a lot of stages before that where these things can have some impact. In Committee in the other place concerns were raised that this clause will not have the intended effect when people are told what to do. I can tell that that concern is shared here as well. I hope I am covering some of the points that make me think it will.
Statistics from the Ministry of Justice show an increasing number of PNDs issued for breach of this offence, with a twofold increase in the past two years. Some 485 individuals received a PND for this offence in 2004, 712 in 2005, 1,061 in 2006 and 1,544 in 2007. The increasing number of PNDs issued for breach of this offence strongly suggests that although DPPOs have proved useful for their intended purpose, more can be done to increase their deterrence effect. We consider that increasing the consequences of breaching a DPPO will deter more people from refusing to comply with police instructions to stop drinking or to surrender alcohol in these areas. This will also incentivise more local authorities to use DPPOs as an effective solution to their area’s alcohol-related disorder and nuisance.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked if we are working with the police and enforcement agencies, and how much dealings we have with them. We are dealing with them across the board, talking through with them their full range of available tools and powers. Increasing this maximum penalty was one they discussed. As has been said by other speakers, this is not the only thing. There are a whole range of things one has got to use.
The noble Viscount and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, also asked whether we had done much training of front-line enforcement practitioners. So far we have trained 1,300 in use of appropriate powers and other ways of trying to do this. We have also talked about this maximum penalty.
I have touched on the designated area issue and have covered most of the points. We believe that this will, with all the other measures, make an impact. You are not always dealing with someone who is absolutely out of their brain. Below that level, people will know how seriously we now take this. It will match other similar fines for this level of behaviour. I hope that those assurances will calm the worries of the Committee. I know we all have the same desire to stop this dreadful behaviour. It is a question of how we go about it. I beg to move that Clause 27 stand part of the Bill.
I knew that the Minister would raise something I would want to come back on. He gave some indication of how many penalty notices have been issued. What is relevant is how many of those have been paid and how many breaches there have been. I do not expect an answer now but would be grateful to know how many prosecutions have resulted from those penalty notices not being paid. That is the only way that this offence comes into being. Then it would be easier for us to see whether the £500 was a deterrent. I suspect with penalty notices that people are not listening, whether it is £2,000 or £500.
The noble Baroness raises a good point. I do not know the answer, and I will come back to her. That is of course only part of it. It does not say how much it might have stopped other people offending, just knowing those fines are there. There is more to it than just that, but I will certainly come back with those factors.
What I did not mention but should have to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, is that we have launched six adult alcohol arrest referral pilots for young people. Those arrested under this receive professional assistance from trained workers, and the interventions will be available alongside these measures. This is a total package because, as with most things, it is not just about punishment. Lots of other factors have to be taken into account.
On behalf of my noble friend Lady Hanham and myself I thank the Minister for that reply. I may not have been quite fair enough to the Government in acknowledging the steps they are taking in terms of alcohol education and so forth. However, with alcohol-related violent crime still rising, I feel that the jury is out and that we shall have to see how it goes. In the mean time, we shall study very carefully the reply the Minister has given.
Clause 27 agreed.
Clause 28 : Selling alcohol to children
Debate on whether Clause 28 should stand part of the Bill.
In opposing the Motion that this clause should stand part, I am afraid that I am not much more kindly disposed towards the second clause in this part of the Bill than I was to the first. Here we are looking at a change to the offence of persistently selling alcohol to children, lowering the bar from three occasions to two within three consecutive months. Again, I would have welcomed a provision that played part of a meaningful policy addressing the growing problem of underage drinking. We all know about the damage alcohol can cause to young people, not only to their health but to almost every aspect of their lives. Shops that deliberately or recklessly sell to minors should be pursued. However, why have the Government suddenly decided that the number of strikes is a problem? The current system has been in place for less than two years, and what hard evidence is there that it is failing?
In the debates in another place, the Government indicated that the police would welcome the opportunity to escalate the penalties more rapidly where they believe premises were wilfully relaxing their checks until they had received two warnings. Does the Minister have any statistics on the number of penalties and fines that have been issued to these premises for failing a test purchase? We have had a partial response to that already. Presumably there must be evidence of lots of £80 penalty notices on bar staff and £10,000 fines on licensees for the first two offences that the Government are failing to act as a sufficient deterrent. I look forward to hearing the figures.
The Government also claimed in another place that they were working with licensees to tackle underage drinking together, yet in this clause they seem to have disregarded their concerns entirely. Large retailers are worried that their high numbers of sales mean that they will rapidly hit the two-strike barrier even when taking all possible care, while small retailers are worried about the difficulty of training their staff to recognise the multitude of IDs that they are expected to vet, and all retailers are struggling to keep up with the ever-changing legislation and regulation they have to operate under. I have yet to hear or see any compelling evidence that this change will make any difference to the problem at hand. I hope that the Minister will be able to do better than his colleagues in another place in explaining just why we need this clause.
I support this Motion and perhaps I should declare an interest. I apologise for not being able to speak at the Second Reading of this Bill, but I declare an interest as the owner of a particularly fine pub called the Redesdale Arms in Northumberland on the A68 just south of the Scottish border which serves particularly fine wine and beer and, of course, food. If anybody happens to be on the A68, it is a good road to take. Perhaps that is more of an interest than I should have expressed. I should also say that I am chairman of Best Bar None, which is funded by the Home Office, and is an organisation that deals with award schemes for best practice in pubs and nightclubs.
It is in that regard that I am interested in supporting this clause because although a large number of pubs deal firmly with the issue of underage drinking, a number of venues have a problem with it. They are the much larger venues where a number of people are the premises licensees.
The issue that I have is that there is no evidence. The noble Viscount’s point about the number of fines was probably rhetorical, but I believe that there are few cases. I am interested to know whether the Home Office is pushing it. Where did “two strikes and you’re out” come from? I am concerned because if one offence has taken place, those in charge of the premises will have to retrain the staff and institute proper management.
Of course, most premises would not go out of their way to sell alcohol to those who are under 18 but the under-18s will try extremely hard to buy alcohol. I remember that I was never refused a drink from the age of 15 onwards. I went to many pubs and would have caused landlords a lot of problems. Obviously, with the PASS scheme it is easier for publicans and licensees to deal with this. But it is unfair on the organisations which, by the time they receive warning notices, have implemented procedures to retrain their staff, and which will then receive a second penalty before they have introduced all the measures. They will be shut down and there is an enormous amount of time, effort and cost to the pubs, especially in this economic crisis, to sort it out. The present system of three strikes has not really been questioned, and it is strange that this should turn up in the legislation.
The Government are clear that selling alcohol to young people is unacceptable, which is the view in the Chamber. I am pleased to say that that view is also shared by the majority of those who sell alcohol and their representatives. It is rather nice for the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, to own his own pub with his own name; it is a splendid thing to do.
I hope that I can explain why I believe this is important and that the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, will give me more marks than the other place in achieving that. I will have a go. It is clear from the targeted enforcement campaigns that we ran that a number of retailers still sell to under-18s, which has to stop. It is not all just errors. In the summer of 2007 the Home Office ran its Tackling Underage Sales Of Alcohol Campaign—TUSAC—which targeted more than 2,500 premises nationally to ascertain the extent of underage sales and how frequently they were made over a three-month period.
The premises targeted as part of this campaign had already been identified as problem premises, and the results showed that 40 per cent of the premises targeted failed on at least one occasion, 8 per cent failed twice and 1 per cent failed three times. Despite being told when it started that they were being targeted for underage sales, 8 per cent still failed twice in that three-month period.
The Government are committed to targeting a minority of businesses that sell alcohol illegally. Even though those premises were targeted on the basis of local intelligence, we felt that the failure rates were unacceptable. If young people know that certain shops will sell them alcohol, they will take advantage, and it is possible that when under the influence of alcohol, as we all know, these young people will be involved in anti-social behaviour, possibly crime and they can cause themselves harm.
I do not have the figure at my fingertips. Unless the Box can provide it shortly I shall write to the noble Lord, but I will cover it if the information comes before the end of the debate.
Some in the alcohol industry will argue that it is too early to introduce changes to this offence. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, did exactly that, given that the original offence came into effect only in April 2007. I disagree with that. The original offence was introduced before TUSAC, which clearly shows that despite repeated warnings some premises continued to sell alcohol to children. Some representatives of the industry have also said that reducing the number of underage sales in a three-month period from three to two is much too harsh, and that the new clause is disproportionate. We all accept that human error will occur and that people will make mistakes when determining whether someone is over 18, but the defence to this offence is that the person selling alcohol has taken reasonable steps to determine whether the person was under 18. That means that they simply ask for some form of proof of age. I agree that it would be disproportionate to penalise businesses for a genuine mistake by a single member of staff—that is why changing this offence as we propose still allows for a level of human error—but the change makes clear that those selling alcohol should ask for proof of age any time there is doubt and, where this does not happen and these sales take place more than once, it is right that the business should be held to account.
A vast number of premises now run Challenge 21 or Challenge 25-type schemes and this clause cannot be considered disproportionate. Simply put, if you are not selling alcohol illegally, the clause will have no impact. But it will send a strong message that it is not acceptable to sell alcohol to children and that those who do will be punished. Earlier this year in Blackpool, an outlet of a major supermarket chain was found guilty of this offence. It was fined only £6,000 but, since then—I think because of social conscience more than the £6,000 fine, although that was important—it has introduced a Challenge 25 scheme across the whole country. I am pleased that many in the alcohol industry are taking steps to ensure that their staff do not sell alcohol illegally. The Challenge 21 or Challenge 25 schemes initiated by the industry are becoming widely understood by the general public. The hologram of the proof of age standards scheme, PASS, is also fast becoming an easily recognised feature of many student and other ID cards. The new clause, coupled with the excellent work the industry is doing, will send a clear message to those selling and those attempting to buy alcohol illegally that it will not be tolerated.
As regards the question of how many people have been prosecuted, the offence of persistently selling alcohol to children, as I said, came into effect in 2007. No prosecutions were brought in 2007 and court proceedings data for 2008 are not available until later this year. I have covered the other one and so I am afraid I cannot add any more. I shall get back to noble Lords with the details of that. On that basis, I hope the noble Viscount will withdraw his objection to Clause 28 standing part of the Bill.
I am grateful for that full explanation. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who is an expert in the pub-owning industry. We all know that there is a very good pub up in Northumberland.
We shall await the statistics we have requested and have been promised by the Minister. In the mean time, we shall study his reply carefully.
Clause 28 agreed.
Clause 29 : Confiscating alcohol from young persons
104: Clause 29, page 26, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) In subsection (1) after “possession of alcohol” insert “without reasonable excuse”.”
Amendment 106 in this group is designed to address a deep concern on these Benches about the Government’s removal of the requirement that there needs to be evidence of intent to drink the alcohol before it can be confiscated. Amendment 104 probes why there is no defence of reasonable excuse inserted to replace such a safeguard. Essentially, these are probing amendments to establish why the Government are changing this power in such a way as to remove all necessity of bad behaviour.
The Government’s amendments in this clause would make it possible for a policeman to confiscate a sealed bottle of alcohol from a young person even if there was absolutely no evidence to suggest that he was going to drink it and he had a perfectly good excuse as to why he was carrying it. This would be ludicrous. While maintaining, as ever, my full support for effective measures to address underage drinking, I fail to see how a young person carrying a bottle of wine home for his parents is in any way a suitable target for the police. Even worse, by then refusing to hand over that bottle of wine, he becomes subject to criminal sanctions—and for what?
Although I understand the desire to allow for the confiscation of alcohol from someone who is transporting it to be drunk by another young person—a situation which the current legislation does not cover—there surely must be a defence of reasonable excuse inserted in order to replace the absent subsection. I beg to move.
We support the amendment. It seems unreasonable that there is no such provision in the Bill. You can imagine a situation where a young person is carrying a sealed bottle of alcohol as part of the weekly shop, which perhaps they deliver to their grandmother—in that case, it might be a bottle of Guinness, which I think is often associated with grandmothers. In a less frivolous way, let us suppose that one of the child’s parents was an alcoholic and the alcohol was sent by their sister, say, or their brother or whoever to the person and the child was carrying it. That is not a desirable situation but surely it should not be caught by the Bill, particularly if the young person had no intention of drinking the alcohol.
In replying to a Question for Written Answer from my noble friend Lord Avebury on 30 June, the Government mentioned that they were revising the drug and alcohol guidance for schools. Apparently they intend to make drug and alcohol education statutory as part of personal, social and health education. That sort of provision in the Bill, if it needs legislative time to be made statutory, would be a far better use of time in tackling some of these issues than the clause that we are debating at the moment.
I support the amendment. The Minister has said on two previous clauses that the purpose is to send messages. I ask him to reflect on the message that is sent to young people when they are stopped although they have a reasonable excuse. They feel that what is happening is extremely unfair and that they have been picked on, and they begin to see the police as people who pick on young people rather than upholders of the law and people whom they should respect. When we are talking so much about sending messages, we should remember that messages go in a number of different directions. In this case, without these amendments the provision could send a message about the unfairness of the forces of law and order, which is not a good message for young people to get.
Amendment 104 seeks to amend the Bill so that people under 18 would not have their alcohol confiscated by a police officer if they provided a reasonable excuse for possessing alcohol in public. This seems perfectly reasonable but I assure noble Lords that it is unnecessary. The Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997 already requires the police to consider when it is appropriate for them to seize alcohol from a young person. Section 1(3) of the 1997 Act sets out that a person commits an offence only if they fail “without reasonable excuse” to comply with a requirement imposed on them. In practice, that means that an officer has to consider the circumstances and decide whether it is appropriate to confiscate the alcohol from the young person in question. Naturally, that will include whether or not they have a reasonable excuse.
In answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, about young people being picked on, one has to know the context in which this happens. Some of our areas and inner cities are a bit like wild lands, I am afraid. It happens in little towns out in the country as well; I know this from Dorset, where I used to have a cottage. You get groups of youngsters behaving in an appalling way, and they are well aware that they are doing so. It is not as if some person walking quietly along the street is going to get picked up for this. We have to get this into context.
Before confiscating the alcohol, a constable is required under Section 1(4) to inform the young person that it is an offence to fail to comply with his request “without reasonable excuse”. In practice, the constable cannot simply put the question of a reasonable excuse to one side as a matter that arises only if there is a prosecution for non-compliance; he will be using his judgment on the basis of the reasonable excuse. This is different from the situation in Clause 30, which makes it an offence to be in possession of alcohol in a public place on three occasions in 12 months. Under that clause, the offence is for possessing alcohol, but the clause contains a safeguard for children with a reasonable excuse for holding alcohol. A young person who is holding alcohol during a family picnic in a park, for example, is exempt from this power as he or she has a reasonable excuse for doing so and would not be penalised.
On Amendment 106, a young person who is drunk on the street clearly poses harm to themselves and potentially to others. The Government are very clear that unsupervised drinking by young people under 18 in public places is unacceptable. It exposes them to alcohol-related risks and has clear links to crime and anti-social behaviour. All of us in this House understand that. It was a central message in the youth alcohol action plan published last June. Therefore, we want to make it easier for the police to confiscate alcohol from under-18s found in possession of alcohol in public. We believe that doing so will have a very positive impact on removing or minimising alcohol-related anti-social behaviour and crime and disorder.
The police have told us that the requirement in the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997 to prove an intent to consume makes it difficult for officers to take sealed containers of alcohol away from young people who are increasingly aware of this requirement—let’s face it, these youngsters can be very cute—and are using it to get round these powers. All it takes is for the young person to argue that the alcohol is not theirs because it is still sealed or they are holding it for someone else, and they cannot be touched. The provisions in Clause 29(4) respond to the very real concerns of the police we have been in dialogue with that they should have the powers they need to take alcohol away for under-18s in a public place, and we agree with them.
If the amendment were accepted, the constable would continue to need to prove that the young person intended to consume all of the alcohol in their possession before that alcohol could be confiscated. It would mean that the police were not able to tackle effectively young people drinking alcohol in public. That, in turn, is almost certainly likely to have an impact on the anti-social behaviour that occurs in the communities and areas I have described. As a result, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that where the police have identified that existing legislation is not working as intended, we should be responsive to these concerns. As I said on the other two amendments, this is part of a total package of measures, all aiming at addressing these concerns.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked about education in schools. We are looking at how we can do more in dealing with schools; DCSF is looking at that in the context of communities. We will make sure that the noble Baroness’s views are reflected in this strategy. There are all sorts of strands, all of which have to be pulled together. I hope that I have covered noble Lords’ concerns and I invite the noble Viscount to withdraw the amendment.
There is a bit more information that would be very useful to have. I do not think that the Minister is likely to have it in detail now, but I should be grateful if he could write to us. He mentioned the plan that was published in 2008, which talked of improving the alcohol treatment for young people when they have been identified to have a problem. Has this happened? What sort of guidance has been circulated to local commissioners and service providers, as the plan stated that it would be circulated later in 2008? Was it circulated and can the Minister let us see that guidance in the next few weeks? What sort of implementation has taken place since then?
I am most grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Stern and Lady Miller, for their constructive support for the amendment. I am also grateful to the Minister for elucidating the previous legislation on confiscating alcohol, which satisfies some of our concerns. This is a serious problem about which the whole House is deeply concerned. I am grateful for the Minister’s ample explanation and shall read it carefully before Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 104 withdrawn.
105: Clause 29, page 26, leave out lines 9 to 12
We have now agreed that I will move Amendment 105. The effect of this amendment is to leave out the part of the Bill that amends the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act 1997 and would give police the power to remove children under 16 from an area to their place of residence or a place of safety if they are simply in possession of alcohol. They will be able forcibly to remove a child, regardless of whether any offence is being committed, or it is necessary to do so for the person’s safety or well-being, or for public order. We are not talking about the situations that the noble Lord was referring to when he responded to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, a few moments ago. The Committee should bear in mind that a single possession of alcohol is not an offence under Clause 30. This new power is unnecessary and disproportionate. The police already have the power, under Section 30 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, to remove children under 16 to their homes between 9 pm and 6 am if they are in a specified area and the power to remove children for their own safety in an emergency under Section 46 of the Children Act 1989. Those provisions have been debated at great length in your Lordships’ House and I have certainly taken part in those debates myself.
We have been contacted by Liberty, which is particularly concerned that these proposed new powers could be open to abuse; that children will feel further alienated, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, said; and that they are unnecessary in the light of existing laws to tackle problems of anti-social or criminal behaviour. I agree with Liberty on that score. There is already plenty of legislation to deal with children who are misbehaving. If a child under 16 in possession of alcohol commits a breach of the peace, such as by threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, it may constitute a breach of Sections 4, 4A and 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. A police power to move children on when they have not committed any offence or disturbance is discriminatory, ageist and counterproductive. As children’s spokesperson from these Benches, I think it is an outrageous idea.
I am not suggesting that we do not have a problem with children and alcohol. We do. According to an Answer to a Parliamentary Question by my honourable friend Norman Lamb in another place, last year there were 181 admissions to A&E of children under 12 for alcohol-related issues; more than 4,000 admissions of 12 to 15 year-olds; and nearly 8,000 admissions of 16 and 17 year-olds. The admissions of 12 to 15 year-olds have gone up by 12 per cent since 2002, and by 66 per cent for 16 and 17 year-olds. We on these Benches agree that this is an epidemic, but we need visionary responses as well as responses that have been proved to be effective. Many local authorities have schemes to address the problem and I outlined some of those at Second Reading. The Government too have some excellent initiatives, such as the alcohol arrest referral programme, which is currently being tested in six local authority areas and was referred to a few minutes ago by the noble Lord, Lord West, in the debate on Clause 27.
Under the scheme, those aged 10 to 17 who have been arrested while under the influence of alcohol or drugs—so we are not talking here about possession—will be interviewed and assessed by a specially trained youth worker who will get to the bottom of the problem and work with the child and his family to agree treatment, education or whatever else is appropriate. I congratulate the Government on initiatives of this sort and urge them to spend their money on more of this sort of thing rather than wasting the police’s budget on moving on children who have not done anything. The authorities should target those who are behaving anti-socially or damaging themselves and their health. They should do it through proven therapeutic means, rather than dragging them unnecessarily into the criminal justice system. The danger of taking children home when they have not broken the law is of destroying any relationship they might have had with the police and alienating them from society by labelling them as troublemakers. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is right to probe this power and to ask what its purpose is. There is no indication that the carrying of alcohol under this clause indicates that the young person is unsafe or about to cause disruption, so what is the purpose behind taking them home? The Government making it a criminal offence to refuse to give the police their home address could lead to a worrying escalation of a very minor situation.
Amendment 105 would remove from the Bill the police discretionary power to take persons under 16 whose alcohol has been confiscated to a place of safety or to their home. Young people drinking in public is a growing problem. A survey of 11 to 15 year-olds—the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned some statistics—showed that the proportion of that age group who drink outside has gone from 21 per cent in 1999 to 31 per cent in 2006. That proportion increases to more than 50 per cent among those who drink more than seven units of alcohol a week, which is an alarming growth. These children place themselves and others at risk of alcohol-related harm. Clause 29 is designed to help address this problem. This discretionary power will allow the police officer to take children under 16 to their home or to a safe place. Guidance will make it absolutely clear the children should be taken home only if they are in possession of alcohol and pose a risk to themselves or others. I do not want to give a raft of examples but I can certainly imagine a 12 year-old carrying a slab of beer accompanied by his older mates who would fall into that category. However, I shall not give lots of hypothetical examples as it would be dangerous so to do.
As I say, it seems to me all too easy to imagine circumstances where someone under 16 who has alcohol confiscated could be at risk if the police officer then simply abandons him. Accordingly, it seems only sensible for the police to have a discretionary power backed by appropriate guidance to take that person home or to a place of safety. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, says that sufficient measures are in place. The police removal powers under the Anti-social Behaviour Act are applicable only—I think that she touched on this—to children whose behaviour is found to be intimidating, alarming or distressing between 9 pm and 6 am in designated locations. That is why we believe the removal power under Clause 29 is necessary as it would apply to persons under 16 deemed by an officer to be susceptible to alcohol-related harm and would permit the welfare of the child to be considered at all times and in all locations. We believe that is beneficial. I hope that with that answer I will have resolved noble Lords’ concerns. I request that the amendment is withdrawn.
In relation to taking a person to a place of safety, what happens in a place of safety? That may be evident in other legislation but not in the Bill before us. Where is the place of safety? Is it a police station, a school or the local social services department? What are the ramifications of this? If the child incriminates himself or herself by saying too much or not saying enough, and they are taken to social services, you can see all sorts of problems arising, possibly from care proceedings because the parents are not around. It is quite easy to put this into writing; it is quite difficult to see the end result. The Government need to consider the end result before we blithely pass this through.
The place of safety is not defined in the Bill. Guidance under the Children and Young Persons Act states that a place of safety can be a community home provided by the local authority, a controlled community home, a police station, hospital, surgery or any other suitable place if the occupier of that place is willing temporarily to receive the child. However, it is important to note that under the amendment the child will often be taken to his or her own place of residence. I do not see this so much as a punishment but rather looking after them and pulling them away from where they are in danger of getting into lots more trouble and ending up in the criminal justice system. I see this as protecting them.
I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. I really think that we are asking too much of the police here. I fail to see how a police officer can know whether a child walking along the street with a bottle of Sanatogen tonic wine is in danger of alcohol abuse. We may well come back to this matter, and we have the next debate on whether the clause should stand part of the Bill to explore it further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 105 withdrawn.
Amendment 106 not moved.
Debate on whether Clause 29 should stand part of the Bill.
As we have just heard, Clause 29 amends the police’s power to confiscate alcohol from young people in a public place. As the Minister said, the police no longer have to prove that the individual intended to consume that alcohol. The clause also requires the young person to give their name and address to the police and allows the police to return the individual to their home or a place of safety, which is not defined.
Confiscation is not the best way to deal with young people who drink outdoors. We on these Benches are concerned that such an approach could antagonise young people and result in conflict between them and the police. It is very easy to get young people’s backs up when they feel that they have been dealt with unfairly. The Government should bear in mind that a 15 year-old may be taking the alcohol home where he or she can legally drink it. There is no link to consuming the alcohol in public. The Government are criminalising behaviour in which the young person is simply preparing to do something perfectly legal—that is, to drink the alcohol at home.
I am also concerned that the power to return the individual to their home or a place of safety is very broadly drafted, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has just pointed out. A similar power in Section 30 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 to remove persons under 16 to their place of residence can be exercised only when certain conditions are met—that is to say, only between the hours of 9 pm and 6 am; where the relevant officer, who is a police officer above the rank of superintendent, has grounds to believe that any members of the public have been intimidated by the presence or behaviour of groups in the locality; and where anti-social behaviour is already a significant and persistent problem. There are no such safeguards against abuse of the powers in this Bill.
We believe that children and young people who are drinking in public places should not, without also having behaved in some other criminal or anti-social way, be subject to criminal sanctions. Dragging them into the criminal justice system and giving them a criminal record will have damaging effects on their future prospects for employment and will be of little deterrent against what is common teenage behaviour. In relation to younger children in particular, public drinking suggests a lack of proper parental supervision and carries evident risks to their health. A welfare-oriented approach should, therefore, be used, including parental support and working directly with the family.
As I said at Second Reading, criminalising possession of alcohol may also lead to children seeking out isolated locations in which to drink, where they may be at risk, particularly at night. There are all sorts of nasty people out there. We also have a problem with the proposition in Clause 29 that those people from whom the alcohol is confiscated should have to give their names and addresses to the police, and that this is then likely to be used as evidence against them in proceedings under Clause 30 to establish a persistent pattern of possession. Children from whom alcohol is confiscated are, therefore, required under Clause 29 to incriminate themselves. They will not be warned of this by the police, nor will they be legally advised, nor will they have an appropriate adult with them—as would happen in situations that occur in a police station.
Further, you can imagine what a child might do when confronted with a police officer asking for their name and address. There is every chance that they will give a false name and address, and they may implicate another innocent young person who will then find it hard to dispute his identity as the person from whom the alcohol is confiscated. A miscarriage of justice is waiting to happen.
In response to the Government’s youth crime action plan, the Standing Committee for Youth Justice cautiously welcomed Operation Staysafe, under which the police use existing child protection legislation to remove children and young people from the street late at night to a place of safety; but the committee expressed concern that that was being used under the banner of controlling anti-social behaviour and should not result in children being swept off the streets. I share that concern. Children should be removed to a place of safety only if they themselves are at risk of harm, as defined by the Children Act 1989. Even then, the interpretation of the words “at risk” and “place of safety” need careful consideration. Let us not further criminalise children, many of whom are only copying behaviour learned from their parents. They need help and guidance, not criminalisation.
Clause 29 does three things, and I shall take them in sequence. Removing the requirement to prove that the person under 18 “intended” to consume the sealed containers of alcohol in their possession will make it easier for the police—we have had a lot of dialogue with the police—to confiscate all alcohol from those under 18 years of age in public places. We are talking about situations where, for example, 12 or 14 youngsters are at a bus stop. Some of them are very drunk, some are not very drunk and some are just watching what is going on. Some are holding drink and some are not. The proposed change should have a positive impact on removing or minimising alcohol-related crime and disorder. Too often, the police hear excuses such as, “It is not mine, I was just holding it for someone else”; or, “I was not going to drink it”. This makes it extremely hard for them to take action against young people in possession of alcohol in public. That is why they believe that this change is necessary, and I agree with them.
I am sure that, in some circumstances, an individual under 18 will have a reasonable excuse for refusing to comply with police instructions to surrender their alcohol: for example, if the young person is with a parent and is helping to carry their shopping. I mentioned the example of going out for a picnic. We agree that alcohol should not be confiscated in such instances, and we expect the police to exercise discretion. However, these situations are very different from the ones that the police are telling us about: for example, groups of young people, some over 18, some under, at a bus stop or in a park, all drinking. It cannot be the norm for young people to be allowed to wander around in groups with alcohol in their possession. I hope that noble Lords agree with me.
The requirement in Clause 29 for a police officer to request the name and address of the person under 18 is linked to the new offence in Clause 30 of persistent possession of alcohol in a public place. Under that clause, it is an offence for a person under 18 to have alcohol confiscated from them three times in any 12-month period. As such, it is necessary for police to know if the individual has had alcohol confiscated before. Taking down the individual’s name and address will allow this to happen. It is interesting to think back to my grandfather, who was a beat bobby in Brixton. He knew all the scallywags, knew where they lived and knew all their families. We are in a different world now. He would probably have clipped them round the ear—which nowadays would get him arrested—and taken them back to their house, where their parents might have smacked them, which would get them arrested now, too. Some forces already take down the details of those from whom they confiscate alcohol. This good practice should be consistent across all forces.
There are concerns that, when someone provides their name and address, they will be incriminating themselves under proposed Clause 30, which creates the offence of persistently possessing alcohol in a public place. However, this is not the case. Under the proposed changes to provisions in the Confiscation of Alcohol (Young Persons) Act, it will be an offence for a young person whose alcohol has been confiscated to refuse to provide their name and address when required to do so. The child does not incriminate himself by giving his name and address and complying with the law. The personal information provided by the young person under the provisions of the clause may be used to prove the offence of persistent possession, but it is the fact that the person is caught in possession of alcohol three times that triggers the offence, not the fact that they have given their name to the police.
Finally, the clause makes provision for the police, should they deem it necessary, to return persons under 16 to their home or a place of safety. The safety and welfare of young people is a key concern of the Government—as it is of all noble Lords—and I assure noble Lords that we take the issue very seriously. We do not consider that it will be necessary in all cases to return a person under 16 to their home or a place of safety. That is why the clause does not say “must”, but “may” take the person to their residence or a place of safety. Not all children whose alcohol has been confiscated will be at risk of harm if they are not returned to a place of safety. Whether they are will depend on how the police assess the situation, and we have to assume that they can do this. The provisions of the clause allow police to use their discretion, so that a decision that considers the vulnerability of the person under 16 can be taken in the light of circumstances. I know the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, feels this is putting too much on the police but I think that we should expect it of the police and that they are capable of making these judgments.
The police already have some powers to remove persons under 16 to a place of safety under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003—I have covered this already—for example, if it is a question of alarm or distress and if they behave in that sort of way between 9 pm and 6 am. Under the Children Act 1989 the police also have emergency powers to remove a young person at risk of significant harm—
While the Minister is on that subject, would he answer the point made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley, that under the Act he has just quoted it has to be a superintendent or above who exercises that power, whereas in this Bill it is a constable? Why do the Government feel that in the case of anti-social behaviour a more senior officer should do this, whereas in the case of alcohol, a constable can deal with it? What is the difference?
The Minister mentioned the Children Act. I declare an interest as a family court magistrate. Under the Children Act, the police would have the right under a police protection order to take a child into protective custody, but a whole lot of ramifications flow on from that. I asked the Minister previously if he could say what the implications were of taking a child to a place of safety. You cannot just take them and leave them somewhere. There has either then got to be contact with their parents in order that they can come and collect them, or, potentially, you have to go down the route of the Children Act and you are in the whole different world that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was referring to. Before the next stage, we need to follow this story through as to what this place of safety means and what follows from it in terms of the Children Act. Then you are involved in all sorts of areas, such as taking the children into police protection and having to seek emergency protection orders. There is a big road to go down. One would hope it would be simple and that when the parents were rung up, they would say, “Oh, dear”, and come running down to pick up the child. But they may not; they may not be around and there may be all sorts of reasons. So I do not think we can leave it like this.
I take that point. It is a good point and we need to look at that. We would expect the bulk of the people to be returned home, as I said earlier. But if some are returned somewhere else, the point made by the noble Baroness is absolutely valid.
As far as the Children Act goes, it is a much more considered and ponderous way of doing things, which is probably why we had this higher level in there. What we are trying to do is immediate and on the ground, which is why we are looking at constables to do it, which I think is right. But this is a valid point and we will get back on that specific issue.
These powers are not designed to deal with the return of young persons who are at risk of alcohol-related harm or who pose a risk to themselves or others because of their alcoholic intoxication. We think that by possessing these things, they could go down that route, which is why we made separate provisions under this clause.
In summary, I believe these measures will empower the police to confiscate all alcohol found in a young person’s possession, thereby reducing the volume of alcohol consumed in public places and all the associated anti-social behaviour and crime. It is quite shocking, as I said earlier, how incidences of this are rising. I am sure all of us have seen what goes on in some of these places. I certainly have and it is pretty unpleasant and we need to do something about it. This will require the police to take a record of who has had alcohol confiscated and ensure that, where appropriate, a person under 16 caught with alcohol is taken home or looked after. I believe that this clause strikes the right balance between tackling under-18 drinking in public and child protection. It is part of the composite of all the things we are doing to try and tackle this problem.
I thank the Minister for his response, but I point out that the many millions of pounds-worth of prohibited drugs that have been confiscated do not seem to have had the desired effect of reducing consumption of drugs. His hope that confiscation of alcohol from young people will reduce the amount of alcohol consumed is a hope that will not be realised.
I understand what the Minister says about the link between this clause and Clause 30, where police have to take the name and address of the child because they need to establish the pattern for which there is an offence in Clause 30, but I am very concerned about the fact that the child on the street will not understand the implications of giving their name and address to a police officer. They will get no advice about it. Again, the Minister is expecting the police to make the sort of judgments and assessments of whether the child's welfare will be compromised that children’s services workers are trained for years to make. I will be very surprised if police officers would go through anything like the amount of training that specially trained youth workers will to make such assessments.
Perhaps the Minister has understood from this debate that we are still unhappy about the clause, so he may find us returning to it, but, for the moment, I shall not be pursuing my opposition to the clause.
Clause 29 agreed.
House adjourned at 9.57 pm.