HC Deb 05 June 1961 vol 641 cc742-76

(1) The holder of a justices off-licence shall not knowingly sell or allow any other persons to sell and a servant of the holder of a justices' off-licence shall not knowingly sell intoxicating liquor to a person under eighteen for consumption off the premises.

(2) A person under eighteen shall not buy or attempt to buy in off-licensed premises intoxicating liquor to be consumed off the premises.—[Commander Kerans.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Commander J. S. Kerans (The Hartlepools)

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

This matter was discussed in Committee upstairs and the Government said that they would look into it again. No Government Amendment appeared on the Notice Paper, and I therefore put down this new Clause.

It seems somewhat illogical that a child of five-plus can go into an off-licence, purchase alcohol and take it away, and yet he cannot buy a packet of cigarettes until he is fourteen. Liqueur chocolates can be bought by a youth of sixteen, but no youth can drink in a public house until he is eighteen. This situation seems somewhat unbalanced in our modern society.

Whether we like it or not, liquor consumption is on the increase and this is one step we can take to stop it. It is too easy to go into an off-licence and purchase alcohol, take it away, go into a car, a field, or a moped, and have a good party without anybody being any the wiser.

We are endeavouring to stamp out crime in this country, especially among youths. Many of them are paid high wages compared with what youths of comparable age were paid in years gone by. It is too easy for them to do the sort of thing that we want to stop. Many of them are older than they appear to be, but it is illogical that a child can go into an off-licence and buy liquor, but until he is 18 he cannot get a drink in a public house. I ask the Government to put a stop to this practice.

The Home Secretary is making every effort to reduce crime. I ask him to accept the new Clause in the spirit in which it has been moved. If it is pressed to a Division I shall vote for it, and I hope that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will give me their support.

Mr. Vosper

I rise now because we had a debate on this subject in Committee and I then gave certain undertakings. I think that in fairness to hon. Members who may want to speak I should give the result of my inquiries.

The existing law—not the law under this Bill—which has stood for many years has the effect that liquor may not be sold on off-licence premises to a person under 14 unless it is contained in corked and sealed vessels in quantities not less than one reputed pint. When we debated this in Committee upstairs, my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General said that it was the view and experience of the Home Office that sales from off-licence premises were not a contributory factor in juvenile drunkenness.

This is most important, because the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) has already recognised my interest in young people, and from the beginning of our discussions on the Bill we recognised that any Amendment which would have the effect of limiting drunkenness among young people should be made, and therefore the House perhaps finds it a little surprising that at this stage that Amendment has not been made. But at that stage it was the view of the Home Office that sales from off-licence premises were not a contributory cause of juvenile drunkenness.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) gave one or two specific examples where there was some connection, as I think did the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths). Both the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend have sent us one or two examples since the Committee stage of this Bill during which I gave an undertaking in these words: In addition to any evidence which may be submitted to me by Members of the Committee, I propose to take steps to find out from appropriate authorities—obviously I cannot analyse every case in the country, but I can take steps to find out from the appropriate authorities—whether they have evidence that off-sales to young people are a serious contributory factor towards drunkenness. If the evidence is to the effect that they are a serious contributory factor, I will introduce an Amendment on Report. I should not do so, however, unless I was told by that impartial source that it was a contributory factor."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 18th April, 1961; col. 1008.] In pursuance of this undertaking inquiries were made of the Commissioner of the Police for the Metropolis and six provincial chief constables—Birmingham, Brighton, Hertfordshire, Liverpool, Swansea and the West Riding of Yorkshire—and six clerks to the justices—Cambridge, Cardiff, Exeter, Manchester, Nottingham and Sunderland. I hope that the House will agree that that is a representative selection.

Mr. Bowen

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the inquiry was whether off-sales had contributed to drunkenness or to drinking by persons under 18 years of age?

Mr. Vosper

It is a little difficult to answer that question specifically. We asked a number of questions. Those whom we questioned were asked to give their views whether off-sales were a serious contributory factor towards drunkenness among persons under 18, and to give such supporting information as they were able, including statistics showing the number of convictions for drunkenness during the last two years against persons under 18 and the number of cases where the liquor, or some of it, was believed to have been obtained by young persons from off-licence premises or off-sales departments of public houses. That is the inquiry we put to the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, to the six chief constables and to the six clerks to the justices.

The general view among those consulted was that off-sales are not a serious contributory factor to drunkenness among young people. Out of 1,120 cases—this comes from the replies which we received where young people were convicted of drunkenness, there was evidence that the offender obtained liquor from off-licence premises in only nine cases. The views of those consulted were overwhelmingly against any change being made in the law. I have examined each one of these replies and in saying that they were overwhelmingly against I certainly do not underestimate the opinion of those replying to the inquiry.

Some of those who were consulted suggested that while young people found some glamour in frequenting public houses, they found little or no glamour in consuming liquor purchased from off-licence departments. I must give the result of these inquiries. They bear out the views expressed in the Standing Committee by my right hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. I said in Committee that I would not put down an Amendment on Report unless the information resulting from my inquiries supported the view that off-sales were a contributory cause to juvenile drunkenness. As I told my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans), I felt I could not put down an Amendment because the undertaking I gave in Committee was so specific.

The House may argue, "Even if there is the slightest risk of occasionally a person being made drunk or getting drunk as a result of off-sales, ought not we to legislate in that respect?" In the Standing Committee the view was strongly expressed that the purchase of liquor from off-licence departments by young persons acting on behalf of their parents was traditional in many parts of the country. It was said that those who went out to do the family shopping made purchases from the off-licence department on the way home, and that to prevent this would be a serious restriction on the activities of many families which would be resented.

Nevertheless, I think that the Committee took the view that if it could be proved that off-licence sales were a contributory cause to drunkenness, we must overcome that resentment and sense of restriction. But it is difficult to do so in the light of the evidence from the inquiries and the replies which we received. For that reason, anxious as we are to stop any possible cause of juvenile drunkenness, it would seem hard to accept this proposed new Clause.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I think that first we should say "Thank you" to the Minister for having made the inquiries. But, having heard the result of them, I am as convinced as ever that this House should accept the new Clause. Because of my duties my service on the Standing Committee which discussed this Bill represented the first time I have served on a Committee for some period. One of the things which caused us great concern was that for some years there had been an alarming increase in drunkenness among young people. We were alarmed by the fact that we are now living in an age when young people have more money to spend. I can rejoice in this fact as I started work as a boy of 13 and received a wage of 1s. 2d. a week. I rejoice that young lads and lasses get better wages today, but that fact provides an opportunity for the tempter.

Young people of today, teenagers as they are called—they were known as adolescents when I was young—have, according to the experts, what are called "uncommitted incomes" which total £17 million a week. This money has taken the place of the money we called "pocket money" in the days when I was young—the small amount of money left after one had paid one's parents, or, rather, what was handed back after one had handed over all one's wages. We know those who are after this £17 million worth of uncommitted incomes. One firm alone is spending £350,000 on advertising. In the Committee we were very disturbed about this, and so we considered the question of off-sales, and I hope that we shall return to the matter again.

We were disturbed because unaccompanied young persons, schoolboys and girls, are able to buy drink from off-licences. I come from a working-class home, and I appeal to hon. Members not to think that they are doing a service to the working classes by pandering to their bad habits. I tell my constituents that if a father in these days sent his boy of ten to the off-licence to get liquor he would not be acting as a responsible parent—

Mr. Rees-Davies


Mr. Griffiths

My father would not allow me to do that, and he was not a bad father. But now this happens, as the Minister knows. Examples were given by the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black). I received an unsolicited letter from a schoolmaster at a school not in my constituency but in England. He wrote to me after the Standing Committee debate and I asked and obtained his permission to send on his letter to the Minister. He wrote that he had reported to his headmaster, who in turn had reported to the clerk of the justices, that boys from the school had bought intoxicating liquors from an off-licence and had been provided with the means to remove the seals on the containers.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

How old were the boys?

Mr. Griffiths

They were still at school, which is my concern.

All children stay at school now until they are 15, and we hope that soon the age will be 16. I am glad that parents are keeping their children at school longer and that in the comprehensive school in the Metropolis they stay longer at school. Boys and girls at school as well as those who have left school and gone to work can get drink from these off-licences. I am charging my memory. but I believe that the Chief Constable of Swansea is on record recently as having expressed himself as very disturbed about this.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Would the right hon. Member be good enough to apply his mind to the real issue? Is he saying that parents should not be permitted to send their children to purchase alcohol, knowing that that drink is in sealed or corked containers? That is the question, not whether young people can drink.

Mr. Griffiths

I have no hesitation about that. Having regard to the situation which faces us and the increase of drinking among young people, I say that we ought to take every step to stop it, and this is one of those steps.

Does the Minister propose to leave the law exactly as it is? What is the minimum age below which a young person cannot buy liquor from an off-licence proprietor? I believe the age is 5. If this new Clause is rejected, are we, in 1961 to allow the law to stand as it is? I may be corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that any child over 5 can be supplied with liquor at an off-licence provided the liquor is in a sealed container. Are hon. Members to vote down this new Clause? The Minister told us that he cannot accept it. He has not suggested an alternative. Are we therefore to leave the law as it is at present, in the setting of our modern society, where any boy or girl over 5, whether sent by a parent or not, can be supplied with liquor by these proprietors?

I hope that I am speaking for the majority of my constituents. I should be disappointed if I were not, but I believe I am. I believe I am speaking for the majority of fair-minded, decent-minded people in the country, who are not prepared to leave the law as it is. In moving this new Clause, the hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepools has rendered a service to this House and to the country. He supported us in Committee and I support him now I hope the House will support us and make it known to the Minister and the Government in no uncertain terms that these are the views and convictions of the best people in the country.

We should sometimes legislate for the best, not for the worst. Let us sometimes raise our sights and do what the finest people, not the worst, want us to do. As one who is proud to have been a miner, I would go to any mining branch or lodge and face my fellow miners and tell them that I voted for this new Clause. I believe they would support it. I am convinced of that. That is why I urge the House to vote for it.

Sir Hendrie Oakshott (Bebington)

I gladly acknowledge the great trouble to which the Minister of State has gone in his examination of this problem. One must pay proper regard to the advice he has received. I confess that I do not like bringing in new restrictions by legislation without very careful scrutiny and without being absolutely satisfied that they are necessary.

In that context, I ask my right hon. Friend—having listened to him with great care and once again accepting that he has given a great deal of thought to this problem—whether he can look at this question again. The present state of affairs was set out by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans) and I shall not repeat it. For what we all believe to be good reasons, young persons under 18 are not allowed to consume drink on licensed premises. I take it that one of the reasons for that provision is not so much the question of drunkenness to which my right hon. Friend referred as to see that strong drink is not too readily accessible to young people.

The first new Clause moved today provided that liqueur chocolates may not be sold to anyone under 16. We have heard from the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and my hon. and gallant Friend that there is nothing to stop those young people going to an off-licence and, provided it is corked and sealed, buying more or less anything they wish. That seems a little odd. We must pay due regard to people like senior chief constables who have great experience in these matters, but, nevertheless, one knows of other examples which have been quoted and which bear evidence in the contrary sense.

In these days of 1961 when young people have more pocket money at their disposal, it is very easy for a couple of young girls and young chaps to raise between them the necessary 35s. or £2 to buy a bottle of gin or whisky from an off-licence. It is not so much a question of drunkenness as of making strong drink too readily available to people of that age. I ask my right hon. Friend if he can give some assurance that he will look at the matter again and, if he cannot accept this new Clause, try to do something on these lines when the Bill reaches another place so that something which is not only an illogicality but a definite danger can be put right.

Mr. Bowen

I strongly support this new Clause. While it may be true that there is no evidence that this is the source of extensive trouble at the moment, it is certainly a possible source of trouble. I do not think that the exact extent of the source of the trouble has been ascertained by the inquiries made by the Minister, inquiries made in good faith. The problem is not that of drunkenness from purchases made at off-licences, but whether young persons under 18 are making purchases from off-licences, and making those purchases for their own consumption. It seems that the Minister's inquiries have not elicited answers to that problem.

I do not want to exaggerate the present position, but I have had one or two instances in recent years which may be of interest. I will describe a recent instance. A number of young lads took a motor car and drove it away without the owner's consent, which is a type of offence which young lads under 18 are prone to commit. Subsequently a quantity of liquor was found in the car. Inquiry revealed that it had been purchased by these young lads, all under 18, at an off-licensed premises. No question of drunkenness arose. Nevertheless, it disturbed me that these three young lads, having taken and driven away a car, had stocked themselves up with a quantity of liquor during their escapade.

These provisions are very unfair to the on-licence holder. One expects the ordinary innkeeper to take particular care to see that he does not supply young people under 18. It is a source of irritation to him that these same young lads, whom he has to refuse to serve, can go round the corner and obtain the liquor there. I hope that the Minister will have second thoughts on this issue because I do not think that he has looked into it as thoroughly as he should have done.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. F. M. Bennett (Torquay)

I was glad that earlier the Minister of State reminded us of the course of the discussions in Committee and repeated the terms of his undertaking, because what he said in Committee, which he has brought to a conclusion today, is that we should not interfere with the rights of the individual, extending for a long time and over a wide field of society, unless there are some very good grounds for doing so.

In Committee my right hon. Friend said that he would look thoroughly into the evidence, as opposed to the emotions or to what hon. Members fear may happen. He said that he would look at what had happened. This afternoon he said that his inquiries had been made not only of chief constables but also of justices' clerks over a wide area of England and that a figure of considerably less than 1 per cent. emerges in evidence of drunkenness being attributed to off-licensed premises.

One or two hon. Members, speaking with great sincerity, have said that they are not worried about drunkenness or whether it leads to crime, but my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans) concentrated his remarks on the crime aspect of the problem, and although he covered a wide field, the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) emphasised in particular the problem of the increase in juvenile drunkenness and steps which we ought to take to stop it. It seems to me, therefore, that in those two cases my right hon. Friend's reply amply disposes of the argument, because we have heard for the first time that over this wide area, out of 1,120 cases, only in nine cases is there evidence that the drunkenness could be attributed to buying in off-licensed premises.

Hon. Members may say that they do not necessarily have in mind drunkenness but drinking as such. If we are thinking of young people between the ages of 5 and their early 'teens, it is not very easy for us to imagine that they could drink a great deal without becoming drunk. It is not likely that the child who is sent to collect father's drink will consume a quantity of it on the way home.

Sir H. Oakshott

I hope that my hon. Friend will not give a false impression by talking about children between 5 years old and their early 'teens. We are worried not so much about them as about those between their early 'teens and 18.

Mr. Bennett

I used the example of those between 5 years old and their early 'teens because earlier we were discussing them in the context of buying tobacco and liqueur chocolates. I will not be unfair, and I will consider those from 5 to 18.

Unless we stick carefully to the evidence and do not devote too much thought to opinions, we may be seriously misled. Judging from what my right hon. Friend said, that is what happened in the views expressed about the element of glamour in trying to get a drink in order to drink with one's elders. The overwhelming number of the cases, however, of young people going into the off-licensed premises is when the working man comes home at night, puts on his carpet slippers and gives the boy 1s. or 2s. to go round the corner and to get father's pint of beer for the evening.

Mr. Stephen McAdden (Southend, East)

Where is the evidence for that?

Mr. Bennett

I think that that represents 99 per cent. of the cases. I hear someone behind me asking, "Where is the evidence?" Other hon. Members have expressed their views as to how the system works at the moment. I am entitled to express the view that 99 per cent. of all liquor bought at the moment from off-licences by children is taken home to their fathers, who would be very cross if they found that their children had taken a swig out of the bottle on the way home.

Mr. Gower

My hon. Friend says that drink purchased from off-licences is generally taken home. Has he reflected on the enormous growth amongst young people of the habit of bottle parties, which are not always held under the most desirable circumstances? Girls aged 14, 15 or 16 unfortunately sometimes become drunk. [Laughter.] My hon. Friend may laugh, but it happens. There were very unfortunate consequences in my constituency in one such case. Does my hon. Friend think it desirable that off-licences should not be subjected to any restriction in the sale of liquor to children?

Mr. Bennett

When I gave way, I was expecting a short observation. If my hon. Friend wishes to develop his speech so forcefully, he will no doubt have a chance later. My short answer to his point is that, if he is talking about the large number of bottle parties leading to drunkenness, he should have listened more carefully to what the Minister of State said, because the question whether drunkenness does or does not flow from purchases of liquor from off-licences would be included in the statistics the Minister of State gave the House a short time ago.

The Minister of State gave an undertaking in Committee. I believe that the view of the Committee was not that this restriction should be imposed. It was that it should be reluctantly imposed only if there was any evidence that the purchase of liquor from off-licences was a serious contributory factor to one of the social evils of our time. It does not appear from what my right hon. Friend said tonight that there is any such evidence. I have no knowledge of what the Government's final attitude to this will be, but I hope that my right hon. Friend abides by the results of the inquiries he has so carefully and sedulously made.

Mr. Stan Awbery (Bristol, Central)

If we are to reduce drunkenness in this country we should make it more difficult, and not easier, for young people to obtain drink. If the Clause is rejected, we shall make it easier for young people to obtain strong drink. I was greatly disturbed a few weeks ago when a man stopped me in the street near an off-licence. It was in the constituency of the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower). The man said to me, "Do you know, Sir, that young boys go into this off-licence and obtain bottles of intoxicating liquor sealed with a screw top with a gummed paper fastener over it?"—as if the boys and girls could not undo a paper top. Youngsters go to the off-licence and purchase drink. Some go there to make purchases for their parents. Some go there and buy liquor for their own consumption. They leave the off-licence, go up a side street, gather together and drink the intoxicating liquor they have obtained from the off-licence.

I sincerely hope that the Clause will be accepted and that we shall do something to protect our young people from the consequences of intoxicating liquor, which they can obtain so easily at present.

Mr. Gower

Like many others, I appreciated what was said by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. I appreciate the obvious care and trouble he has gone to to obtain information about this problem. I agree with those Who believe that we should not lightly impose restrictions. Nevertheless, I regard the existing law as unsatisfactory.

I cannot believe that my right hon. Friend should allow his present findings to be the only basis of his judgment on an issue such as this. We must consider the present social pattern, the social pattern of higher earnings than ever before for young people, of opportunities for them resulting, perhaps, from a parental discipline less harsh than it was ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, of opportunities with vehicles for them to enjoy mobility, taking them away from the social controls of their own localities. I put this question to my right hon. Friend. Whatever may be the pattern of behaviour in certain parts of the United Kingdom, does he, on reflection, think it satisfactory that there should be no restriction at all in respect of young people above the age of five?

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott), I consider that the case here does not depend only upon proven instances of drunkenness. It arises from other social phenomena also. In an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) I referred to one such. My hon. Friend seemed to think that it was my case that young people who had bottle parties always got drunk. That was not my only case. I pointed out that these bottle parties are not always held in very desirable circumstances.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

My hon. Friend has said that I misinterpreted his observations. If I did I was misled by his own words. He said that at these bottle parties girls got drunk and undesirable things happened.

Mr. Gower

My main point was that these parties are not always held in the most desirable circumstances. My hon. Friend must be aware of the growing tendency. Young people buy quantities of drink at off-licences, and among their number very often are teenagers under 18. We should not in legislating make it easier for this obvious danger to grow.

I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend, despite what he has said, will take note of the feeling on both sides of the House, a feeling which I believe to be much more vociferous than he yet appreciates. All of us who speak in this way are determined to vote against him on this, and I feel that we represent a quite large body of opinion in the country. We believe that there should be some restrictions on people in their teens simlar to those which prevent young people from buying a drink in on-licensed premises.

Mr. G. Roberts

I never thought that I should ever rise to support wholeheartedly the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower). I commend him on what I thought was a forthright and thoroughly sensible speech, a speech in line with the excellent contribution made by the hon. Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott), who spoke for all of us who feel as I do. We are not concerned with prohibition as such—indeed, we should oppose such a move—but we are concerned about the amplification of facilties and temptations particularly for young people.

8.45 p.m.

The Minister of State gave an undertaking in Committee that he would pursue an inquiry into this question. We thank him for doing that, but clearly the inquiry was not of such a nature that it could possibly go very deeply into the matter. He gave a number of centres where he made inquires, one of which, Swansea, returned the same answer as the other centres but whose chief constable only a short time ago made a report in which he said that he was seriously concerned about the increase of drinking among young people. Therefore, like the hon. Member for Barry, I find it rather difficult to accept the Minister's view that we should not pursue this matter because of the results of the inquiry. With all due deference to the Minister, I suggest that the inquiry was valueless. It did not go far enough or deep enough, and it did not cover a sufficient number of centres.

There is deep concern and uneasiness on both sides of the House about the present situation. This reflects a similar feeling throughout the country. Wherever we go people bring up this question. Short of a thorough-going inquiry, it would be impossible to collate the evidence properly and to bring it forward, but there is this uneasiness among school teachers, ministers of religion, parents, youth workers and the public in general. Even though there is not a body of evidence which proves that off-licence facilities contribute to drunkenness among young people, the state of the law is sufficient argument for this House to amend it.

The position is that any child over five years can walk into an off-licensed house and buy a quantity of intoxicating liquor in a more or less sealed container. Whatever the results of the partial inquiry made by the Minister, surely this House should not tolerate that. It may be that the inquiry has shown that it is not evidence of drunkenness, but an inquiry directed to the question of drinking would have yielded a different result.

This is an increasing problem. Young people today have more money than the young people of years gone by had. Their social surroundings are different They also have greater precocity, an earlier maturity. Whether it is a question of maturity of precociousness, I hesitate to say, but the fact is that as time goes by, because of those reasons, there is an increasing danger to young people from this facility.

Finally, I wish to say a word or two to those who claim that it is a great con-venience to certain parents that their children should be able to go to off-licensed premises to buy their drink. Hon. Members who represent industrial constituencies assure me that that practice is declining all the time. Even if it were increasing, it would be absolutely wrong. I support the spirit and content of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said on that point. What possible deprivation or inconvenience is it to any parent not to be able to send his children to off-licensed premises to buy his beer or spirits? Since in the last three or four years cases of drunkenness among young people have doubled, this House should set aside any such inconvenience or deprivation, even if it existed—I am convinced that it does not exist—and act in this matter so that we reassure, not only hon. Members on both sides of the House who have signed and supported the Amendment, but all shades of opinion, whether total abstainers or not, throughout the country.

Sir C Black

I rise to support the new Clause and to express my disappointment at the reply of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. Together with other hon. Members, I am not convinced by the evidence he has obtained. Nearly all of this debate and our decision on the new Clause must hinge on the view that we take about whether there is evidence of evil arising from the present state of the law owing to the fact that off-licences can sell liquor in sealed bottles to children over five years of age.

My right hon. Friend said that he had not evidence of a sufficiently compelling character to lead him to think that an amendment of the law was necessary. He referred to the fact that in response to the invitation he made to me on Standing Committee I had sent to him one or two cases. I feel quite sure that my right hon. Friend will not mind my saying that that is not fairly or adequately stating the case. In fact, I sent to him nine cases with full particulars of the persons and sources from which the information was obtained. As some hon. Members have expressed doubt whether in fact an evil exists in this matter, I propose briefly, because other hon. Members want to speak on this and subsequent items, to give some of the evidence that I sent to my right hon. Friend.

The first case that I sent was an extract from the report of the chief constable of the county borough of Middlesbrough, as presented to Brewster Sessions in 1959, in which he stated: Our investigations into this matter have also revealed"— that is on the question of juvenile drinking and juvenile drunkenness— that in some cases intoxicating liquor has been obtained from off-licence premises, and whilst it is extremely difficult to stop this practice, I hope that off-licence holders will do their best to ensure that young persons are not allowed to buy drink for their own consumption. I sent my right hon. Friend a statement of the warden of a community association who gave five cases within his own personal knowledge and experience; then the testimony of the vice-chairman of a juvenile bench; and then a statement by a youth leader at South-port, by a minister of a church in my constituency, by a youth worker at Cheltenham, and by a youth worker at Leeds. I also sent him two newspaper cuttings, one, significantly, from the Morning Advertiser, which reported a case of three boys, one age 15 and two age 16, who were convicted in Neath County Juvenile Court of having obtained and consumed liquor from an off-licence, and the other a report from the Crawley Weekly News of the highly-unsatisfactory position existing in Crawley new town as a result of children and young persons obtaining liquor from an off-licence, the off-licence holder having, of course, no legal authority to refuse to supply them in the present state of the law. I do not for one moment accept the thesis which is, apparently, accepted by some Members of the House that no evidence of a substantial character exists of evil arising from the present state of the law in this regard.

I have found that a great many well-informed people, with whom I have discussed this matter, are entirely ignorant of the present state of the law. I have found it difficult to convince large numbers of people to whom I have spoken that the law is that a child of 5 or over can purchase liquor in an off-licence. I have not found anyone who is prepared to defend that legal position nor anyone who is prepared to oppose the substance of the new Clause.

In view of the publicity concerning the existing state of the law which will result from this debate, the fact that multitudes of children and young people will be made aware as a result of this debate that they can go to an off-licence if over five years of age and purchase liquor, whatever the case might have been before this debate, this debate makes it inevitable that Parliament should deal with this matter in view of the increased evil which must arise as a result of this debate if we do not tighten the law.

I do not understand why my right hon. Friend thought it necessary to make these inquiries. He did not make them in regard to liqueur chocolates, which is a very small matter compared with the issue that we are now debating. He did not say that he had to ask the chief constables and the magistrates' clerks whether there was evidence of evil arising from children and young persons buying liqueur chocolates.

My right hon. Friend accepted the view in Standing Committee without any persuasion that that was a matter that should receive attention and that if the right were to be given to confectioners to sell liqueur chocolates, clearly there should be a restriction on the right to sell to young persons. I cannot see how my right hon. Friend requires so much more conviction in regard to a larger matter when, on a smaller matter, he was prepared so easily and so readily to accept the need for this restriction.

I do not feel that this House would be discharging its duty if it were to fail to go into the Lobby this evening to make clear to the Government the sentiment of this House. I am certain that in so doing, we should be reflecting the sentiment in the country. I am certain that my right hon. Friend is anxious to do what is right. The trouble is that he has asked the wrong questions of the wrong people and he is sheltering behind the fact that he does not have enough evidence when the evidence is available on every hand if we seek for it and obtain it.

I understood my right hon. Friend to say that the chief constables and the magistrates' clerks who had been consulted were overwhelmingly opposed to an amendment in the law in the sense of the new Clause. If that is so, I must say with great respect to the people concerned that they have gone beyond their proper functions in expressing a view on that matter. It seems to me entirely proper for chief constables and magistrates' clerks to provide information on matters of fact in response to inquiries addressed to them, but when they take upon themselves to abrogate to themselves the duties of Parliament—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."]—and to seek to influence this House as to what this House ought to do on a matter of legislation, that seems to me to be going beyond the proper duties and the proper scope of the activities of people like magistrates' clerks and chief constables.

Mr. Rees-Davies

If my right hon. Friend has asked the wrong questions of the wrong people, who, in my hon. Friend's opinion, are the right people and what are the right questions for resolving this issue?

Sir C. Black

What I would like to have asked would have been whether there was evidence of drink being consumed as a result of the present state of the law and not evidence as to drunkenness, because the two things are quite different.

9.0 p.m.

Are we prepared to accept the position that a child of 6 can consume drink as a result of this loophole in the law, provided that he does not consume it to the extent of becoming intoxicated? I am not prepared to accept that position. Therefore, the test with me is not whether drunkenness results but whether consumption of liquor by young persons and children results. That is the question I should like to see addressed. [HON. MEMBERS: "To whom?"] My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has shown himself very willing to respond to the mood of the House today. We are all grateful to him for his willingness to seek to give effect to what is the majority view of the House and I hope that on this matter he will see fit to do the same thing, to reflect the view of the House and of the country and make an important step forward in social and temperance reform.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I am rather sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State intervened when he did in the debate. I fully appreciate that he did so because of an undertaking that he gave when the Bill was passing through Committee that he would seek evidence on this matter. There is no doubt that he has sought evidence but, as far as I am concerned and I gather from what has been said in the debate as far as other hon. Members are concerned, it is not such evidence as most of us would accept.

One naturally pays attention to what chief constables and magistrates' clerks say because they are engaged locally in dealing with matters of this sort, but they are not the only people whom we should consult, and, if the situation is as the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) alleges, it looks as though the right hon. Gentleman has put the wrong questions. Certainly, if he asked whether these people were in favour of any change in the law and overwhelmingly they said they were against it, one must take the assertion for what it is worth. It is not a question that we should ask chief constables. It is for Parliament to decide on the evidence.

Although one takes, quite properly, all such evidence as chief constables and others offer, it is not the only evidence that the House should take into account. My hon. Friends, both in Committee and in the House, have brought overwhelming evidence to show that drunkenness among teenagers is growing. I do not suggest that five-year-olds buy bottles of gin, although under the law they are capable of doing so if they are so minded. It is the teenagers who now, fortunately or unfortunately, have enough money to spend who go in for this kind of thing. There is not the slightest doubt that drunkenness among young people is growing. Even the chief constables whom the right hon. Gentleman approached could not deny that.

Where do these young people obtain the drink? They possibly go to on-licence premises and get it there. Many of them nowadays look more than their age. Some can pass for 18, but on-licence holders are generally very strict and keen to comply with the law and they do not willingly serve anyone under 18 if they have knowledge of his age. There is not the slightest doubt that these young people are getting the drink and the assumption therefore must be that some of it comes from off-licence premises where the licence-holder cannot prevent their having it. The Minister said that out of 112 cases, nine cases of drunkenness were attributable to drink obtained from off-licence premises, but he did not say whether the liquor in the other cases had been obtained from off-licence premises or where the young people had obtained it. If in the other cases the young people were not drunk but they obtained the drink from off-licence premises though only nine went so far as to be "tight", then we have evidence of 112 cases from the chief constables to their own knowledge.

Mr. Vosper

I had better correct the right hon. Gentleman. There were 1,120 cases, in nine of which there was association between the drunkenness and sales from off-licence premises.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

That is even worse than I thought—1,120 cases where drink had been obtained in sealed bottles from off-licence premises.

Mr. Vosper

No; 1,120 cases of drunkenness among young people, of which nine were associated with off-licence sales.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

How was it known where the 1,120 young people had got their drink? Surely there are only two sources. One is an on-licence and the other is a shop or off-licence premises.

Mr. Hobson

Or a club.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Yes, there is also a club.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise where in practice most of the drink is obtained, certainly for bottle parties? If the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers) were present, he could tell us with absolute certainty. It will be found that it is done by telephone, and this has not yet been mentioned. It is ridiculous; we have been talking about evidence and so on. If young people of 17 or 18 want some drink, they can telephone an off-licence or anywhere else and have it sent round to them in crates with the greatest of ease, and do not need to go to an off-licence at all. That is how most of it comes about.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

That only shows that we are not going far enough in this Bill, and we can at any rate stop this one loophole, if we want to, by accepting the Clause moved so ably by the hon. and gallant Member for The Hartbpools (Commander Kerans).

I honestly do not understand the right hon. Gentleman. I have been sitting here trying to puzzle out how his brain has been working over this matter. He is, to our certain knowledge, a very humane Minister. He has for years taken a great interest in work among youth, and his activities in that respect have been rather fruitful- He is quite definitely in the eyes of all of us, I hope, someone who takes an interest in young people and wishes them well, and yet here, where there is obviously a loophole in the law and there is a feeling on both sides of the House that this is an opportunity to close it, the right hon. Gentleman refuses even to consider the evidence which has been sent to him and fobs us off—I must use that phrase, because it is the only one which fits the situation—with evidence that he has got from a certain number of chief constables some of whom, perhaps—I hesitate to say this—are of a temperament which does not want interference of this kind or extra work put on their officers who are overworked anyway.

This is the last Bill of this kind that we shall have for a long time. It is obvious that, given the atmosphere and temper of the teenagers of today and all the violence that we read about in the Press, this kind of thing is likely to continue and that the young people will get drink if there is this way of getting it. The number of cases which have come to the notice of the Minister do not appear to be great, but many of us believe that they are much greater than the right hon. Gentleman has admitted, or than he has evidence about. That being the position, and as it is likely that this kind of thing will get progressively worse and we shall not have another Licensing Bill for a long while, the proposal which has been made could do nobody any harm.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) has whispered to me, if he sends his son along to the tobacconist he cannot get a packet of cigarettes but if he sends him to an off-licence he can get a bottle of gin, a bottle of whisky or anything else. That is an absurd anomaly in our law. Here is an opportunity to cure it. I am positive that when we reach the end of the debate the right hon. Gentleman will find that more people than he imagines, even from his own side of the House, will support the hon. and gallant Gentleman's proposed new Clause.

Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)

I hope that after listening to the debate my right hon. Friend will think again about his attitude to the new Clause. The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) spoke of bad habits. The only justification for allowing young people to purchase alcohol from off-licences is if they are buying it as agents for their parents. I would not say that it was a bad habit for a father to have his son get the beer, but we are going through a period of great social change.

When I was a youngster, we went to off-licences for a pint of draught beer, but nowadays beer can be bought by a juvenile from an off-licence only if it is in a sealed container, and it is important to remember that if the seal on a bottle is broken, the game is given away to the parent.

Mr. Fletcher

Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that it is only if the child is under 14 that the beer must be provided in a sealed container and that children over the age of 14 can buy it whether it is in a sealed container or not?

Mr. Mawby

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. What I was going on to say was that the breaking of the seal gave the game away to the parent only if the child was buying the bottle on behalf of the parent and took a nip on the way home.

I well remember that when I was an apprentice and I was marking my name on my tools my mate said, "It is no good marking them because they will pinch the name as well as the tools." That is the case with a sealed container. If the child or young person is purchasing the liquor for his or her own consumption, the sealed container will give no evidence to anyone, because when the child has consumed the contents, the seal will go the same way as the container—into the nearest dustbin.

We are seeing great social changes and it is time that we ended this anomaly whereby a young person can go to an off-licence and purchase two or three pint bottles of beer, or a bottle of whisky, but cannot purchase ten cigarettes for his father on the same errand.

My right hon. Friend said that there was a balance which we had to maintain, and I believe that on balance all parents will say that they would rather go to fetch their own beer than allow the present situation to continue, with young people, purchasing supplies of liquor and going into a quiet corner and holding a bottle party or a record party or whatever it is, unknown to their parents, and getting into a great deal of difficulty. I am sure that on balance most parents would want my right hon. Friend to reconsider the matter, so that even if parents are given a little more difficulty, at least the younger people are not given so much opportunity or so much temptation to get into drinking at an early age.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

This is a very modest Clause and I hope that those who are supporting it will not claim too much for it. It is, however, a useful measure making a useful and, indeed, as this debate has now revealed, a necessary reform in the present state of the law. I appeal to the Minister of State, who in a previous office was at the Ministry of Education and who was keenly interested while in that Ministry in the youth of our country, to treat this not as a debate on drunkenness but as a debate on youth. This is not a debate between the two parties in the House or between total abstainers and drinkers. There have so far spoken in support of the Clause those who are obviously teetotallers and men like myself who are not teetotallers. While there may be differences of opinion about drink itself, I would have thought that the whole House would agree that there was a need, particularly today, to keep youngsters away from liquor, at any rate until they have reached an age of maturity and can make decisions for themselves.

9.15 p.m.

I do not want to elaborate or exaggerate what is happening among the youth of England, particularly as the popular Press would only print the sensational things said in the debate. The Press is apt to describe youth when they go wrong and paying no regard to the magnificent achievements of most of our youth. But everybody who is interested in youth and in education is alarmed at the growth of drunkenness among young people, at the fact that, as the Crowther Report put it, to be ill-educated in an affluent society is very dangerous, and at the fact that our young people have money to burn and that all the propaganda today is directed to urging them to burn it often in the least desirable ways.

I do not like any restrictions on personal liberty, but I would quite willingly accept for myself a number of restrictions and discomforts if it meant keeping danger from some of our young people—the youngest ones in particular. There is no need for statistics to prove that this Clause would prevent parents from sending youngsters to buy their liquor for them. I ask any hon. Member who is to take part in the debate whether he would send his young children to an off-licence to buy liquor which he himself wanted to consume. The Clause would also prevent youngsters from buying liquor and taking it away to consume themselves. It is a matter of fact, not argument, that this will keep at any rate some youngsters away from the temptation to drink.

I do not by any means think that the Clause would solve the great problems which confront our youth today in this materialistically prosperous but spiritually dangerous society, but it would help a little. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the fact that there have been only nine cases involving this aspect. But each of the nine is one human being. I was headmaster of a school before I came to the House. There was a young boy in that school who was not very intelligent. He was one of the nicest boys in the school but one of the weakest and most easily led.

With some difficulty, we got him a job in the docks. He came back to his old headmaster six months later having been sacked from work for drinking when he should have been working. I cannot really forgive a society in which that was possible. The youngster, who was not a bad lad, was led astray by the ease with which he could procure liquor, and after six months as a wage earner had met with serious disaster.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, whatever his views on drinking itself may be, and whatever the views of the House may be about alcohol—and we are probably divided forty or fifty ways on this matter—will, by accepting this Clause, help to protect to some extent some of our younger people.

Mr. Vosper

I spoke earlier because I thought it my duty to put before the House the results of the inquiries which I promised to make in Standing Committee. I then intended to listen to comments on the figures.

The hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) thought that the form of my inquiry was not the right one—that it should have been into drinking amongst young people. I made clear to the Committee, however, the form of the inquiry which I would undertake and it had the approval of the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) who commented on my speech then The Minister has approached the problem in a reasonable manner. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) surprised me by saying that he wondered why I made the inquiry at all and indicated that he disapproved of it. But in the Standing Committee he said: I welcome the approach of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State to this matter, because the kind of investigation which he proposes to have carried out is, in the circumstances, a reasonable approach to the problem."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, l8th April, 1961; c. 1009.]

Sir C. Black

I said nothing that contained the suggestion that I was not in favour of the inquiry. I said that the wrong questions were asked.

Hon. Members

Of the wrong people.

Mr. Vosper

I made clear to the Standing Committee the sort of questions which I would ask. I do not think that the people I asked were necessarily the wrong people. They were intimately concerned with the problem—chief constables and clerks to licensing magistrates working in a wide variety of places. I can well understand that the answers that I have given do not coincide with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon, but I felt bound to give the information to the House. I pledged myself in Committee that I would not table an Amendment unless the evidence that I got from impartial sources showed that drunkenness amongst young people had a contributory cause in off-licensed sales. I therefore feel that I have fulfilled the obligations I undertook in Committee.

It is clear that the evidence, limited though it is—and I admit that—does not support the Amendment; nor does the general evidence available to the Home Office. Quite apart from the result of accepting the Clause, it would be a mistake if the House deluded itself into thinking that if we stopped this alleged loophole we should be getting at the cause of juvenile drunkenness, which is something that concerns my right hon. Friend and me as much as anybody in the House. Therefore, my approach to this question is similar to that in respect of motorways, two or three hours ago. The evidence is against the new Clause but, as my right hon. Friend said, we have to consider the mood of the House and public opinion. My intention was to state the facts to the House and then assess its mood in the following speeches.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) made the best contribution to the debate when he said that even if this is a minor cause of drunkenness the people of this country probably think that it is time for a change, and are prepared to suffer some inconvenience in the cause defended in the Amendment. That argument goes beyond the inquiry, which was limited to drunkenness.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott) asked me to consider the matter again, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon asked me to respect the mood of the House. I am willing to do both, but I cannot go so far as to accept the new Clause, for three reasons. First, I should like others than those who have taken part in the debate to reflect on the evidence I have put before them. Secondly, I should like to assess the reaction to the debate and, thirdly, the Amendment has defects as it stands, if only because no penalty is provided.

I can assure the House that I will look at the matter most favourably, and that some action will be taken in respect of it. That may not go as far as my hon. Friends want me to go, but it is as far as I can hope to go. I think that the right hon. Member for Llanelly will agree that my approach to the matter in this debate is as reasonable as he considered my approach to it was in Committee.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

When my right hon. Friend is addressing his mind to this matter I hope that he will be influenced not only by the statistics but also by the number of people who have embarked upon a career of drinking—not drunkenness—through obtaining liquor before they were 18 years of age, who had never drunk before that age, but started the practice then.

Mr. Vosper

Yes, I shall pay regard to that point, and to all the speeches that have been made in the debate.

Mr. Fletcher

I am sure that every hon. Member who has taken part in the debate will welcome the Minister's second speech. It is not for me to say what course will be adopted by the hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans), but I think that the Minister has taken a very sensible course and has shown that he is responsive to the mood of the House in this matter.

The Minister claimed credit for having fulfilled the assurances which he gave in Committee. Having read his words there, and having heard what he has said this evening, I think that he is entitled to claim credit for that. But what has emerged from the debate is that the House is not so much concerned with the evidence derived from certain selected chief constables as with the degree to which the ability of young people to acquire liquor from off-licensed premises has contributed to drunkenness or to other offences. What has emerged is that the House realises that the law with regard to the sale of intoxicants in off-licence premises is totally anomalous, totally illogical, and indefensible. As hon. Members have pointed out, the revelation as to what is the existing law has come as a surprise to certain hon. Members, and will come as a greater surprise to members of the public when they read it.

The law on the subject is even more grotesque than was indicated by the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) because at the moment the position is that any child can go into an off-licence premise and buy spirits or beer provided that they are supplied in a corked and sealed vessel. But those limitations apply only to children under 14. Children over 14 can go into an off-licence and buy any quantity they like in vessels that are not corked or sealed. Therefore, this discussion about the bottles having to be properly corked and sealed applies only to children under 14.

The implication that one must draw from the law as it stands, and as will be make known when the debate is read by the public tomorrow, is that children over 14 are encouraged by the present provisons of the law to go to off-licences and buy liquor regardless of quantity in unsealed and uncorked containers. The distinction is drawn at 14 and, as hon. Members pointed out, we are concerned in this House with protecting that teenager group between 14 and 18.

It semes totally inconsistent that while we have deliberately included in the Bill a number of provisions designed purely for the protection of children—we have increased the penalties for selling intoxicants to children under 18 in public houses; we have taken steps to protect children in registered clubs and other places—we have done nothing to change the absurdity of the present law with regard to the supply of beer, spirts, wines and alcohol of all kinds to children between 14 and 18.

I appreciate that the Minister has listened to this debate and that he is speaking in the absence of the Home Secretary, but we ought to have an assurance that, if the Amendment is withdrawn, as with the case of the motorways an Amendment will be introduced in another place by the Government to give effect to the sense of the House as expressed in this debate. I appreciate that the language of the new Clause suffers from some defects because there is no penalty, but unless we have a positive assurance from the Minister that the Government will take the initiative and introduce a Clause free from grammatical or drafting defects, I hope that the hon. and gallant Member will press the new Clause. I would prefer to see it accepted by the House with any deficiencies of drafting that may be in it, because they can be remedied in another place. This is essentially the kind of subject similar to the one we were dealing with just now, and it is right that the House should express an opinion because it is the duty of the House to give effect to the feeling we all have so strongly that some change is required in the law for the protection of young people.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Vosper.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I cannot compete if a number of hon. Members partially rise from their "launching pads". Mr. Vosper.

Mr. Vosper

The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) asked a specific question. I thought that I was forthcoming in the words I used at the conclusion of my speech. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman need be disappointed in this respect. I spoke in good faith when using those words.

Commander Kerans

In view of the statements of the Minister and the adequate assurance which has been given, and in the sincere hope that this matter will be considered in another place with the remarks which have been made in this House, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Hon. Members


9.30 p.m.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I should not have spoken on this matter but for the fact that at an earlier stage the Minister indicated that he was not willing to accept the Clause. Since then half-a-dozen hon. Members have been called. There is no complaint about that, as they had put their names to the Clause which they seek to support. In addition, one or two, other hon. Members have spoken.

I do not agree that this is in accordance with the mood of this House. I think there is a majority of hon. Members—many of them are absent at the moment—who hold the view which the Government expressed at the outset. They consider it of the utmost importance, and the reasons should be given by someone. My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. F. M. Bennett) did so in part but through the lack of time and other circumstances he did not develop these matters in detail.

I join with my right hon. Friend in attempting to help hon. Members on both sides of the House to arrive at a correct determination of the feelings of hon. Members. I am not ashamed of the fact that I have some detailed knowledge of this subject. I have dealt with cases concerning this problem and involving a large number of juveniles.

The problem posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) was a correctly stated proposition. He said that if there was evidence of drink, of an increased consumption of alcohol, as a result of the present state of the law, he was in favour of doing something about it. That was also the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington (Sir H. Oakshott) when this matter was under consideration in the Standing Committee. I do not want it to go out from the House that the youth of this country is given more to intoxication than hitherto, because that is a false accusation. I entirely dissent from the "Baptist vie" which we have had bandied about tonight. It is not a true statement and the evidence in that regard is quite untrue. There is no proper evidence from those who know, of any increase in the consumption of alcohol due to the present state of the law.

If it is stated that there is an increase in the consumption of liquor obtained from off-licences, there ought to be evidence to support that statement, and there is none. An infinitesimal proportion of the cases of drunkenness relate to drink obtained from off-licences.

Mr. G. Thomas

How does the hon. Member know?

Mr. Rees-Davies

I will tell the House in a moment if hon. Members will listen. I have had no chance to speak about this before.

It is equally true that drink may be ordered from an off-licence by means of a telephone call without there being any knowledge of the age of the person making the call. That is done in a great many cases. We have had an analysis from the police, whose job it is to keep analyses in these matters, in relation not only to increases in drunkenness but in the consumption of alcohol which is quite a different matter. The evidence shows that in the cases of drunkenness on record there is no evidence to show that they were contributed to to any degree by sales from off-licences. I think that important. I believe the House, in an endeavour to do something which hon. Members think is right, has assumed this to be true without one wit of evidence to support it.

When earlier we were dealing with the question of licences for premises on special roads, we were entering a new field, but this is not a new field. We have had this practice for 100 years in working-class districts. In the working-class constituency in which I once had the honour to fight an election—it was next door to the constituency of the Chief Whip in the City of Nottingham—it was a common practice to send children to off-licences to buy drink in containers. As the question was posed by hon. Members opposite, I say that I should be perfectly proud to send any child of mine to an off-licence to buy alcohol. Why not, if it is in a container? There is no evidence whatever to show that the children sent to buy alcohol on behalf of their parents are in the slightest degree likely to steal that alcohol. If they are deceitful they will steal anything and this provision would not help one way or the other.

As to the children between 5 and 14, is it really suggested that it will increase drunkenness or addiction to drink to allow them to buy drink from off-licenses? Will that be so in the case of children in their teens or between 5 and 14 when they act as messengers? Absolute fiddlesticks.

As to young persons between 14 and 18, that is not the bottle party age. In the main the bottle party age starts at 17½ onwards. Persons between 14 and 18 can be sent by their parents to obtain drink in sealed containers. If they wish to obtain drink on their own, they know that they are being deceitful but they can arrange it in any one of a number of ways and they do not have to go to an off-licence to do so. Nor is there any evidence of an increase in drinking by persons of that age in this country. The evidence obtained by the Consumer Research Council is to the contrary. The increased money they receive is being spent on "pop" music, ice-creams, dresses, lipstick and things of that kind. There is no evidence to show that the increased number of coffee bars and so on has led to an increase in drinking intoxicants. On the contrary, the evidence is the other way.

Then there is the question of the bottle parties and the awful cases in which girls are seduced. There are a few, some very bad ones, but I wish the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. G. H. R. Rogers) were here. He knows about this problem. I wish also that the hon. Member for Paddington, North (Mr. Parkin) were here because he knows a lot about it. Do hon. Members think that either of those hon. Members would support this new Clause? I very much doubt it. Those who know the position in regard to bottle parties know that usually it is the man over 18 who goes forth and purchases alcohol and then invites girls of under 18—it is not the girls who buy it—and the girls are seduced at the parties. There is not a scrap or tittle of evidence that those under 16 or 17 go to off-licences for the purpose of buying drink for themselves.

If the House wants to go ahead and do what I think would be a very stupid thing when there is no evidence to suggest that we should do so, go ahead and do it, but for heaven's sake do not say that we are doing it on the evidence, for we shall be doing it against the evidence. Those like myself who see this in our daily work, and policemen and probation officers, are the right people to ask for evidence. If hon. Members assume that because of religious or Baptist views they should adopt this proposal, all I can say is that I will have none of it.

Mrs. Slater

The last speech to which we have listened was in my opinion the most disgusting which has been made in this debate. After listening to it, I am quite convinced that those of us who think there is a very great need for this provision should express our opinion emphatically on this issue. The hon. Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) has been speaking about bottle parties, but this new Clause is not designed to deal with bottle parties. It is to deal with the question of the protection we should give to young people under 18 years of age.

It has been said that young people under 18 must be able to purchase liquor from off-licensed premises because their parents need it. But times have changed very considerably. When the Act of Parliament permitting this was introduced, men worked longer hours than they work today. Thank goodness we have reduced those hours. The need of those days for a man to have his beer in the house when he returned from work has been reduced. Moreover, firms deliver drink to the door if people want it. The need for young people to fetch it grows less and less.

The question is whether it is right or wrong that young people should be able to purchase drink in off-licensed premises. In my opinion, it is definitely wrong. We are living at a time when there is more concern about young people than ever before. Although the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet apparently believes that fewer people under 18 drink alcohol and get drunk as a result, the evidence—in spite of what the Minister said—from many industrial areas is that more young people are learning to drink. If there is even a possibility of that, the House ought to take every precaution to prevent young people from being able to obtain drink in any way. The Bill strengthens the position in relation to public houses. How illogical that it should not strengthen it in this respect, too.

It is not only that young people have more money but that more of them have motor cars or motor cycles. It is easy for them to purchase beer from off-licensed premises, take it to a quiet place, drink it and then become an added menace because they are in charge of either a motor car or a motor cycle. It is the duty of the House to tie up the law by accepting the new Clause and making sure that every protection is offered to our young people.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet spoke in a sneering way about Baptist Members. Thank goodness that some of us have some fundamental principles. We believe that young people should be encouraged to live in accordance with the best possible principles. Encouraging them to drink alcohol is not encouraging them to live in the highest and best traditions.

Commander Kerans

In view of the adequate assurance given by my right hon. Friend that the new Clause will be redrafted in another place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. George Thomas.

Mr. G. Thomas

I apologise for not having been in the Chamber throughout the debate. I have sent an apology to the Minister. In my opinion, the speech made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) should be answered from this side of the House and—

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Thomas

I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. I thought that you called me.

Mr. Speaker

I did. I called the hon. Member in error. I was charmed into it.

Mr. Fernyhough

On a point of order.

Mr. Speaker

I am on my feet and there is no point of order at the moment. The position is that the hon. and gallant Member for The Hartlepools (Commander Kerans) had gone further than I had realised and had asked leave to withdraw the Motion. But I have not put that Question to the House. I therefore require some indication from the House in order that we may proceed in the correct way. Is it your pleasure that the Motion and new Clause be withdrawn?

Hon. Members


Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Speaker

Lest I should be guilty of discourtesy, I stopped the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), who wished to raise some point of order. I hope that it has perished in the normal way.

Mr. Fernyhough

It has.