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Alcohol: Sale to Children

Volume 757: debated on Wednesday 19 November 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the answer by Baroness Williams of Trafford on 17 November, in what manner the proposal to repeal the restriction on the sale of liqueurs to children formed part of the public consultation on the Deregulation Bill.

My Lords, the proposal to repeal the offence of selling liqueur confectionery to those under the age of 16 is part of the Government’s Red Tape Challenge, which seeks to remove unnecessary burdens from businesses. A public consultation led jointly by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Cabinet Office asked businesses and members of the public for their views on deregulating a wide range of regulated activity.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for at last answering the questions I raised on that, but I find her Answer quite unacceptable. I have before me the policy guide to the Deregulation Bill, published by the Cabinet Office for the Minister responsible, which says under the details of consultation only:

“The proposal has not been part of the public consultation, but was suggested by business”.

That was produced by the Cabinet Office. Why do the Home Office, the Ministers and others concerned not know what is happening on this?

My Lords, it is my understanding that the consultation was open to both businesses and members of the public.

Is my noble friend aware that I sat on the pre-legislative scrutiny committee for the Deregulation Bill, and that it was made clear to the members of that committee that, yes, each department was asked to put forward proposals, and anybody— an organisation, an individual or any party that had validity in the United Kingdom—could make representations? Indeed, in some areas huge numbers of representations were received. My noble friend is absolutely right. Representations did not come just from business; it was open to anybody who wanted to make a submission on liqueur chocolates to do so.

Does the noble Baroness agree that it might have been a better hallmark of responsibility and of trust towards young people had there been an investigation by health authorities of the possible injurious effect of the ingestion of alcohol in any form on young people; and that that would have been much better than surrendering to the blandishments of business, which might not be entirely free of self-interest?

My Lords, it is my understanding that concerns were not raised by any health bodies on the matters that we are discussing today.

My Lords, I would press the noble Baroness on this, because there is some confusion. In Committee, when this was discussed, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, who was answering for the Government, said that it was not a matter for business and business had not asked for this. He thought it was a retail issue. However, the consultation policy briefing document from the Cabinet Office says:

“The proposal has not been part of the public consultation, but was suggested by business”.

Given that there are some concerns, which may or may not be justified, about deregulating the sale of liqueur chocolates to children, would it not be better, as the noble Lord said, to consult those who have an interest in public health and are concerned about alcohol misuse, and ask what their views are? Would that not be the more sensible way forward on an issue that is becoming controversial?

My Lords, obviously I was not there on the Deregulation Bill, but it is my understanding that this consultation was open to anybody who wished to respond to it. It was widely advertised on the government website and, as I just said to the noble Lord, health bodies did not raise concerns about liqueur chocolates on this theme of restricted goods.

My Lords, did the Government take or seek advice from the BMA, Alcohol Concern, the Institute of Alcohol Studies or any other organisation concerned with the huge problem of alcohol harm in children?

I am sorry, but I did not catch the last bit of my noble friend’s question. As I have said, I understand that those bodies did not raise concerns on this element of deregulation.

I regret having to come back to this but we must get to the truth. This was not part of the consultation. Indeed, this document has been taken down from the Cabinet Office website. Why, when the health of children is affected, have the Government not consulted their Chief Medical Officer, who is opposed, Public Health England and all the other health authorities that have a view—a view that they have so far not expressed because they have not been invited or asked to consult?

My Lords, I can have a note sent to the noble Lord about why specifically health bodies were not consulted. In seeking to get the truth, I can assure the noble Lord that I am not evading it, but answering with the best information that I have.

My Lords, may I seek clarification? The Question refers to liqueurs; the Minister has referred to liqueur chocolates. Which is it?

My Lords, is not the issue that there was a general consultation, which asked, “Do you have any ideas for deregulation?”. That is how, on licensing, the idea of deregulating liqueur chocolates came into being. That is the issue and the truth. The truth is that the idea of carrying out this precise measure was never put to anybody else. Health authorities would probably never even dream that somebody would be daft enough to include that in the Deregulation Bill.

I totally agree with the first part of the noble Baroness’s question, which she put very clearly—it was all part of the Licensing Act and general deregulation. As I said, there has been no response from health authorities on concerns over chocolate confectionery, but it was covered by the general strand of restricted goods.