I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
There are a number of reasons for bringing forward this important Bill. Its most important objective is to help curb drink abuse, particularly so far as under-age drinking is concerned. At the same time, to meet public demand in relation to certain aspects of the legislation, the Bill makes some adjustments in the prohibited hours and proposes that special provision be made to enable restaurants of an acceptable standard to serve a full range of alcoholic drinks.
Existing legislation on intoxicating liquor is extensive and complex. There are about 40 separate Licensing Acts, dating back to the early part of the last century. Of these, almost a dozen date from the foundation of the State, with important enactments in the 1920s, 1940s, and 1960s. The last major item of legislation in this area was the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1962. Accordingly it is now timely to review some of the more important aspects of the legislation. Much of the legislation touches on questions that are difficult and controversial and there are understandable differences of opinion on many aspects of the licensing laws.
There has been a trend in the various Acts passed since 1924 towards gradual liberalisation, to reflect social change and public demand. The intoxicating liquor laws have a very widespread effect and for that reason there will be few people in this country who will not have an interest in the changes now proposed. These changes will, of course, affect the general public, but they will have a particular interest for the trade groups concerned. I regard it as important that the agreement of these trade groups should be secured, as far as possible, for the new proposals. Since becoming Minister for Justice, I have met many deputations from organisations concerned with the licensed trade and before that, over a period of years, meetings took place at frequent intervals with my predecessors in office. It cannot be expected that all the organisations concerned will be able to give unqualified support to my proposals, since the interests of these groups often conflict. The general public interest must, of course, be paramount and I trust, accordingly, that I will receive a considerable measure of agreement from all concerned for my proposals. These will, I believe, serve the public interest while not conflicting seriously with the legitimate commercial aspirations of any particular group. I will certainly listen to any reasonable suggestions for amendments to my proposals but I should make it clear, at the same time, that I cannot contemplate major policy changes which would be solely for the benefit of any particular sectional interest, at the expense of the public interest or of other trade associations.
The consumption of intoxicating liquor in a moderate and responsible way must continue to be accepted as a normal aspect of social and business life. At the same time, the abuse of drink does have grave social and economic consequences, so that controls on its sale are essential and are a feature of legislation everywhere. Since intoxicating liquor is potentially a dangerous substance, most States have a licensing system restricting the outlets through which it may be sold.
In putting forward proposals for amendment of the licensing laws, it is important to maintain a balanced approach. The great majority of people who take a drink do so in a mature and responsible way and it is quite reasonable to liberalise the licensing laws to the extent necessary to meet their legitimate requirements. It may be necessary, at the same time, to introduce restrictions to counter abuses where it is clearly established that these exist. The task of the Legislature is to get the balance right.
The licensing laws are concerned essentially with the number and nature of licensed outlets and the persons to be licensed, as well as the times at which, and the persons to whom, drink can be sold. All of these elements are dealt with to some extent in the Bill now before us. The licensing laws are quite wide-ranging, however, and extend to aspects which are not covered in this Bill. When it has been dealt with, a continuing examination of the legislation will range over a wider area. Deputies may well be wondering why this Bill is being brought forward if there is a possibility of another to follow some time later. This is because the Bill deals with a limited number of important proposals, the need for which has been clearly established, and which merit immediate consideration and attention in advance of any other proposals that may be formulated for amending existing legislation.
The Bill before us is divided into six Parts. The explanatory memorandum circulated with the Bill sets out the proposed changes in non-technical language. I will endeavour now to outline the more important provisions. These can be teased out in more detail during the later Stages of the Bill.
Part II of the Bill introduces a new concept into the intoxicating liquor laws, that is, the special restaurant licence. The system of special restaurant licences now proposed is very similar to that already operating in Northern Ireland. Before giving details of this system, I should like to make a few general remarks. In the first place, since there is a natural connection between food and drink, there are many, especially among visitors from abroad, who would regard it as understandable that special provision should be made in the licensing system to enable restaurants to serve a full range of drinks. Any hotel can serve alcohol to residents and the association between eating and drinking is surely as strong as that between drinking and the provision of overnight accommodation.
The background to the present licensing arrangements is, very briefly, that the Licensing Act, 1902, put a stop to the grant of additional full licences for the sale of intoxicating liquor, save for the special case of hotel licences. Since then, anyone wishing to get a new licence to sell a full range of drink has had to extinguish at least one existing public house licence. This includes hotels which wish to sell intoxicating liquor to the public — in such cases at least one existing intoxicating liquor licence must be extinguished. However, there are other criteria which are often difficult, and sometimes impossible, to comply with. It is these other criteria, which relate to the location of licences to be extinguished and increases in population in the locality, that can make it impossible for some restaurants to purchase existing licences. It is, therefore, not correct to argue that any restaurant wishing to obtain a liquor licence under existing arrangements can do so.
Under the terms of the Bill now before the House it will not be a condition for the grant of a special restaurant licence that an existing licence must be extinguished and there will be no numerical limit on the number of these licences. While the licence will allow the sale of a full range of drink for consumption on the premises, the restrictions on the grant and operation of the licences are such that they cannot be compared directly with full public house licences. Thus, any restaurant wishing to get a special restaurant licence will have to meet very exacting standards which will be set out in standards regulations to be made by the Minister for Tourism and Transport.
As the Department of Justice are the Department primarily responsible for intoxicating liquor legislation, the consent of the Minister for Justice will be necessary for the making of these regulations. Bord Fáilte will be the inspecting authority and will decide whether or not any particular restaurant meets the required standards. The special restaurant licence will enable the supply of intoxicating liquor only in connection with the consumption of a substantial meal, during specific periods of the day and evening, either in the waiting area of the restaurant before the meal, or with the meal and up to half an hour after it has ended.
I will now look briefly at some of the specific proposals relating to special restaurant licences. Section 2 of the Bill includes a definition of "bar". While this definition will apply throughout the Bill, its significance, so far as restaurants are concerned, is that a restaurant selling intoxicating liquor under a special restaurant licence will not be allowed to have a bar. In other words, it will not be possible for such restaurants to have any sort of counter or barrier either in the waiting area or the dining area, or elsewhere on the premises, across which drink can be served to customers, as can be done, for example, in public houses or hotel bars.
Section 7 defines "special restaurant licence". As I have indicated, this will permit the supply of a full range of intoxicating liquor on the premises to anyone who has ordered a substantial meal. The drink can be consumed in connection with such a meal, either in the waiting area or the dining area of the restaurant, and must be paid for at the same time as the meal is paid for.
Section 8 sets out the procedures to be followed where application is made for a licence of this kind. In principle, the procedure will be similar to that followed in making application for new public house licences, except that in this case a Bord Fáilte certificate in respect of the restaurant must first be obtained. Where the applicant satisfies the court that a Bord Fáilte certificate is in force, and no objection is made, the court will give the applicant a certificate which will entitle him to receive a special restaurant licence from the Revenue Commissioners on payment of the specified fee. The normal objection procedures applicable to the grant of other intoxicating liquor licences will apply to the grant of special restaurant licences.
One aspect of section 9 which I would like to mention is the fee of £3,000 for the initial grant of a special restaurant licence. It has been suggested that this fee is excessive, though I am also aware that there are those who feel it is not large enough. In deciding on the amount of the fee, the Government bore in mind the considerable commercial value of any licence which permits the sale of a full range of alcoholic drinks. It was necessary, in order to help prevent a proliferation of these licences, to settle on a figure which was more than just nominal. At the same time, it was considered that the fee should be less than what is believed to be the going rate for new pub licences obtainable from the "in pocket" or non-trading stock of such licences. It was borne in mind that as the applicant for a special restaurant licence will not have to extinguish any existing licence, the only requirements he must meet will be compliance with the standards set out in the regulations and payment of the initial fee. In all the circumstances, I feel that a fee of £3,000 is right and reasonable. Since it may be necessary, in due course, to vary the amount of the fee, section 9 provides that this may be done by regulations made by the Minister for Justice. Under section 24, any such regulations, as well as regulations under section 12 prescribing standards for the restaurants concerned, must be laid before each House of the Oireachtas and may be annulled by resolution passed by either House.
I already mentioned that all the normal objection procedures will apply to the grant and renewal of special restaurant licences. Section 10 will give the local Garda superintendent an extra ground for objection, in that he will be able to object to renewal of the licence on the ground that the premises have not been bona fide and solely used as a restaurant.
Section 12 is a very important section which sets out the matters which can be provided for in regulations to be made by the Minister for Tourism and Transport and which will specify the standards to be met in restaurants qualifying for the new special licences. The objective will be to ensure that these licences will be available only to restaurants of good stanard whose primary business is the serving of meals to the public, the supply of intoxicating liquor being merely ancillary. The Minister for Tourism and Transport may wish to amend the regulations in the light of experience or to extend their scope, and accordingly he will have power to make regulations in respect of any other matter, not already mentioned in section 12, where he considers this to be necessary or desirable. The consent of the Minister for Justice will be necessary for the making of any such regulations since he is the Minister with overall responsibility for the intoxicating liquor legislation. As well as having power to grant certificates, Bord Fáilte will be enabled to cancel the certificate in any case where a restaurant no longer complies with the standards required. Section 13 sets out the procedure applying in such cases.
The times at which restaurants holding special restaurant licences will be able to sell intoxicating liquor are set out in section 14. On weekdays these will be from 12.30 p.m. to 3 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 12.30 a.m. The hours for Sunday and St. Patrick's Day are 12.30 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Those for Christmas Day will be 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. These are the times when restaurants could resonably expect a public demand for substantials meals. In accordance with the existing practice, the supply of alcohol will not be allowed at any time on Good Friday. While intoxicating liquor can be supplied in premises having special restaurant licences during the times indicated in section 14, such premises will be able to stay open at any other time for normal restaurant business but the sale or consumption of alcohol will not be allowed during such other time.
While I am satisfied that the introduction of a system of special restaurant licences is fully warranted, it is important, at the same time, to ensure that they are used only for the purpose for which they are intended and are not made a basis for carrying on a pub trade. Accordingly, I have specified a fine of £500 in section 15 for contravention of the terms of a special restaurant licence; the mandatory endorsement provisions in the intoxicating liquor laws will apply in the case of any such conviction. I should mention that the ordinary enforcement provisions relating to licensed premises, including, for example, the power of inspection by the Garda and the prohibition of under-age drinking, as well as penalties, such as those relating to prohibited hours, will apply in relation to premises having the new licences.
I have already mentioned that restaurants holding special restaurant licences will not be allowed to have bars. Section 16 sets out the penalties for contravention of that provision. I would regard the carrying on of a bar trade in such a restaurant with the utmost seriousness and the penalties apart from the fines set out in section 16, include the application of the mandatory endorsement system in the case of any such offence.
Special restaurant licences will not enable the sale of alcohol for consumption off the premises and it will not be possible to use them as a basis for obtaining occasional licences or special exemption orders. Section 23 of the Bill is intended to ensure that liquor licences of other kinds, such as pub licences, cannot be obtained by extinguishing a special restaurant licence or licences. Restaurants which do not obtain the new special licences and which already have full liquor licences will, of course, be able to continue operating under those licences and, indeed, any restaurant owner who wishes to obtain such a licence by extinguishing the requisite number of public house licences and meeting the other criteria set out in the legislation can continue to do so as in the past. Similarly, restaurants with wine licences will be able to operate as at present and new wine licences will be obtainable under the usual conditions. However, where a special restaurant licence is obtained, any other liquor licences or certificates held for the same premises will cease to have effect.
If I could sum up in a few words the reasoning behind the statutory provisions I have just outlined, it is that what I would describe as good quality restaurants will be facilitated in serving a full range of drinks with meals at the times of the day and evening when people would normally wish to eat in such restaurants; the restrictions on special restaurant licences to which I have referred are designed to ensure that such licences are not used as a basis for developing another type of drink business, such as a pub trade. The new system will undoubtedly help the tourism industry. It is to be hoped that by emphasising the connection between food and drink it will help to produce a more responsible attitude to alcohol overall. It is my view — and I would not propose the introduction of special restaurant licences if I did not so believe — that these licences will not militate in any way against the public interest and will not unfairly affect the legitimate commercial interests of existing outlets for the sale of alcohol.
I turn now to the question of the permitted hours for the sale of intoxicating liquor in licensed premises generally. This is dealt with in Part III of the Bill.
There is probably no single aspect of the liquor licensing laws which creates more interest among the public than the hours during which intoxicating liquor can be sold. This is a subject on which widely diverging views are held, not merely in this country, but in other countries as well. There are, no doubt, many people who will maintain that the permitted hours are already over-generous. Equally, there are many who believe that public houses should be allowed to open more or less whenever they want to. I have come to the conclusion that the present permitted hours are fundamentally sound and have stood the test of time well. However, times do change, and experience gained from the operation of the present hours for over a quarter of a century is significant. The Government have therefore decided that changes in some aspects of the permitted hours are desirable.
Since 1960 there has been a policy of basic uniformity in permitted hours. In other words, the opening hours of all licensed premises and registered clubs have, in general, been the same. The closing hours adopted in 1962, which are still in existence, may have been regarded as over-generous in some respects, but less than what was justified in others. To put that more specifically, it has been suggested that there should be an even later closing time than 11.30 p.m. during the summer months in tourist areas or throughout the country generally and it has been suggested that there is possibly a case for an earlier closing time in major urban areas. However, I am proposing that the policy of uniformity of opening hours throughout the country should be maintained and indeed extended. I have examined exhaustively the argument that the general weekday closing time for licensed premises, especially during the summer, should be later than at present. I have also been told by some people that I should make pubs close earlier. The view most generally expressed, however, was that the present closing times are basically acceptable. Having fully weighed the arguments, I have come to the conclusion that the present weekday closing of 11.30 p.m. during summertime and 11.00 p.m. during the rest of the year should remain as the latest times for serving drinks but that the present ten minutes drinking-up time is not sufficient to allow last drinks to be consumed in an unhurried atmosphere. Accordingly, I am proposing that weekday closing remain unchanged but that the drinking-up time should be extended from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. This means that during summertime the latest time for serving drink will continue to be 11.30 p.m. but the premises must be cleared by 12 midnight. During the rest of the year last drinks will still be at 11.00 p.m. and the premises must be cleared by 11.30 p.m. As I have said, this will allow last drinks to be consumed in a leisurely manner without all the hustle and bustle associated with the present ten minutes drinking-up time. It will give bar staff an opportunity to begin tidying up before the premises are cleared and will, I hope, go some way towards bringing a calmer and more relaxed atmosphere to drinking-up time.
It has been suggested that we should differentiate between tourist and nontourist areas so far as closing time is concerned. However, such a distinction between different parts of the country is hardly valid nowadays. If it was, and opening hours were differentiated accordingly, we would then have the situation where licensed premises in some parts of the country were staying open later in the evening than similar premises elsewhere. This would put licencees who were just outside the areas where later opening applied at a major commercial disadvantage. An even greater objection to differentiated closing times would be the dangers on the road caused by people leaving licensed premises at closing time and travelling long distances by car to areas where later drinking hours applied.
So far as Sunday evening is concerned, I have received a large volume of representations for some extension in the present 10 o'clock closing time. Having considered these representations, I have come to the conclusion that such an extension is justified and I am proposing accordingly that general Sunday closing should be at 11 p.m. The reaction I have received to this proposal indicates that it will be generally acceptable. Under my proposal, licensed premises generally, as well as clubs, will close for the supply of drinks at 11.00 p.m. on Sundays. With 30 minutes drinking-up time, this means that premises will have to be cleared by 11.30 p.m. on Sundays. This is the same as the proposed closing and drinking-up times for weekdays during the winter months.
One of the main effects of these relatively minor changes in permitted hours will be that people will be able to drink in a more relaxed manner at closing times. I do not believe that these changes will give rise to any significant increase in the total consumption of alcohol.
Section 25 of the Bill, which inserts a new section 2 in the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1927, contains the main provisions regarding prohibited hours in licensed premises and section 26 has corresponding provisions for registered clubs. Section 25 also increases the fine for prohibited hours offences by licensees to a maximum of £400 for a first offence and a maximum of £800 for a second or subsequent offence. The present maximum fines of £20 and £40 were fixed in 1927 — that is, over 60 years ago — and are clearly outdated now in view of the fall in money values. An important point to remember is that up to 1986 endorsement of the licence was mandatory where a licensee was convicted of a prohibited hours offence, the licence being forfeited where there are three live endorsements. Since 1986, however, endorsement in such cases is at the discretion of the court.
In view of the provision for forfeiture, endorsement of the licence is regarded as a more severe penalty than any fine. It is relevant to note that the Bill proposes that the permitted hours for the sale of drink should be liberalised to some extent. The system of prohibited hours remains a very important control, however, and I am determined that the provisions in this respect will be strictly enforced. Taking all these factors into consideration, I am satisfied that a substantial increase in the fines for prohibited hours offences, as now proposed in the Bill, is fully justified.
I would now like to say a word about the abolition of the "holy hour". This refers, of course, to the mandatory closing of licensed premises and clubs in Dublin and Cork between 2.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m. on weekdays. Afternoon closing of licensed premises was introduced in Britain during the First World War and its adoption in certain areas here was recommended by an Intoxicating Liquor Commission in 1925. The "holy hour" system was adopted because it was thought to be necessary in order to prevent continuous drinking throughout the day. Under the Intoxicating Liquor Act of 1927 it was originally applied to Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Waterford. It was not applied elsewhere because it appeared that about 80 per cent or more of the public houses outside those cities where mixed businesses and it would have been unfair if the proprietors of those mixed businesses had to forego the sale of goods such as groceries or hardware while their competitors in those lines of business remained open.
In 1962 the "holy hour" was abolished in Waterford and Limerick, again because of the number of mixed businesses in those areas, leaving Dublin and Cork as the only areas where it remained. I now propose to abolish it in these remaining areas, not only as an opportunity to extend the policy of uniformity in the permitted hours, but because I believe the "holy hour" has outlived its usefulness and is no longer desirable, especially in view of the increasing tendency to take midday meals in licensed premises. Indeed, it probably has an adverse effect on tourism and on business generally in Dublin and Cork and I have had representations both from the vintners' interests in those cities and from the Dublin City Centre Business Association requesting that the "holy hour" be abolished. Deputies may note that there is no reference to the "holy hour" in the Bill. Its abolition is effected by omitting reference to it in the new provisions inserted by sections 25 and 26.
Finally, as regards Part III of the Bill, I come to a subject which has given rise to considerable difficulty. I refer to the question of special exemption orders. Provision for such exemptions was first introduced in 1927, in the Intoxicating Liquor Act of that year, enabling the District Court to grant special exemptions from the ordinary permitted hours in respect of special occasions in licensed hotels and restaurants. There has been a considerable increase in the number of such special exemptions in recent years and there have been complaints that they are now a source of abuse. In view of this, I have considered whether restrictions on the grant of such exemptions would be justified in the public interest. I have had to bear in mind, in this connection, representations which I have received, particularly from licensed hotels, that the late evening drinking allowed under special exemptions now meets an established demand, especially in rural areas, and that many hotels have come to rely on the income from these occasions for their economic survival and the continued employment of staff. I have, nevertheless, decided that some restrictions are warranted and I will now outline these.
Most of the special exemptions are granted in respect of dances at which substantial meals are required to be served. In the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1962, the definition of "substantial meal" includes a provision that the meal must be of a kind for which it would be reasonable to charge a sum not less than an amount to be prescribed by the Minister for Justice. This minimum figure was last prescribed in 1979, when it was put at £2. I am satisfied that this amount should now be substantially increased, not merely because of the fall in money value in the interval but also as a measure to ensure that the meals served on these occasions are substantial, as the law intended. This has implications for other aspects of the intoxicating liquor legislation. As I have indicated in relation to Part II of the Bill, the intention is that drink may be served in restaurants qualifying for the new special restaurant licences only in connection with the supply and consumption of substantial meals. In this context, as well as in connection with special exemption orders, an appropriate minimum price for a substantial meal would be £5. Under the 1962 Intoxicating Liquor Act a variation in the indicative price for a substantial meal can be affected by ministerial order and, accordingly, this requires no provision in the present Bill.
I would next like to mention weekend special exemptions. As I have indicated, the grant of special exemption orders is a matter for the District Court and such orders tend to be given mainly in respect of weekend nights. The law provides that special exemptions may not be given in respect of any period on a Sunday but this has been interpreted as allowing them to commence at 12 midnight on Sunday. The special exemptions for Monday mornings are of particular concern since, for most of the population of this country, Monday is the first working day of the week. It is a matter for the court to decide the time in respect of which any special exemption would be granted. I am satisfied that some restriction on Monday morning exemptions is justified and seciton 29 of the Bill accordingly provides that they may not be granted for any time after 1.30 a.m. on Monday.
Finally, in relation to special exemptions, I am proposing that persons under 18 will not be allowed to be present in the licensed premises concerned while they are in operation and section 35 of the Bill contains a provision to that effect.
I come now to the part of the Bill which arguably will have the greatest social impact — that is Part IV, which contains provisions aimed at curbing under-age drinking. Before outlining my proposals, I would like to strike a note of caution as to the role of legislation in this area. I agree with those who say that under-age drinking is a major problem which needs to be dealt with urgently. The passage of time has shown up some inadequacies in the licensing laws and I intend to remedy the situation in that respect. However, the introduction of new intoxicating liquor legislation must be regarded as only one of the instruments to be used in tackling this abuse. It will not solve the problem on its own. I do not intend to speak in detail about the other measures that can be used, but I would stress the importance of parental example and a good home environment, of education in the dangers of drinking alcohol and also of social outlets where alcohol is not consumed.
At this point I would like to commend Deputy Sean Barrett for his Private Members' Bill on under-age drinking, which has already been discussed in the House. To an extent, that discussion could be regarded as paralleling the Second Stage debate for Part IV of this Bill but I intend, nevertheless, to outline briefly the main provisions of my proposals, notwithstanding the similarity between them and those already debated. These proposals relate to the presence of under-age persons on licensed premises, the supply of drink to them and the consumption of intoxicating liquor by them.
One change which has been repeatedly requested by those concerned about the problem of under-age drinking is the removal of the word "knowingly" from sections 10 and 11 of the Intoxicating Liquor (General) Act, 1924, since the inclusion of this word makes it very difficult to prosecute successfully in cases covered by the sections. Those sections, which are repealed by section 4 of the Bill, made it an offence for any licence holder to knowingly supply alcohol to a person under the age of 18 years for consumption by that person either on or off the premises.
New provisions aimed at prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquor to under-age persons are now contained in section 31 of the Bill. This important section makes it an offence for any licence holder to sell or deliver intoxicating liquor, either directly or indirectiy, to anyone under the age of 18 years; to permit a person under the age to consume intoxicating liquor on his licensed premises or to permit anyone to supply a person under the age of 18 years with intoxicating liquor on his premises. The penalties for contravention of these provisions include the endorsement of the licence on conviction. It has been pointed out that it can sometimes be difficult for a licence holder to judge whether a particular person is under or over 18 years of age. As a balance to the provisions which I have just outlined, I have accordingly provided that it will be a defence for the licence holder, in any court proceedings, to prove that he had reasonable grounds for believing that the person in respect of whom he is alleged to have committed the offence was over 18.
Whereas section 31 creates offences for the licence holder, section 32 makes it an offence for any person to purchase intoxicating liquor for, or deliver intoxicating liquor to, any person who is under 18 years of age or to send a person under the age of 18 to obtain alcohol. Under section 33, it is made an offence for the first time for a person under 18 to purchase alcohol or to consume it in any place other than a private residence, or to represent himself as being over the age of 18 years for the purpose of obtaining alcohol.
I come next to the question of the presence of under-age persons in licensed premises. It is an offence for a licence holder to allow anyone under the age of 15 years to be in the bar of his licensed premises. There are certain exceptions to this — for example, where the person aged under 15 is resident on the premises. This is a provision which, I am satisfied, should be changed. There are circumstances where the provision may appear to be unreasonable and to that extent difficult to enforce. Thus, for example, it may be convenient, or even necessary, for a parent with young children to remain for some time in a licensed premises, especially in the country, while waiting to catch a bus or to keep a medical or dental appointment. There are other occasions, such as during family holidays, where it will be reasonable to allow children in licensed premises when accompanied by their parents. After careful study, I have come to the conclusion that it is unreasonable to place a blanket ban on the presence of children in licensed premises. I am proposing, accordingly, that children should be allowed in bars at any time during permitted hours if they are accompanied by their parents or guardians. Section 34 of the Bill sets out my proposals in this respect. In doing this, I have had to balance carefully the dangers of introducing children to a pub atmosphere at an early age against the reality that in some cases parents will have no practical alternative to bringing their children with them, for limited periods, into pubs. Deputies will notice that I have set out penalties, both for the holder of the licence and for the parent or guardian, where a child is found in the bar of a licensed premises in contravention of the section.
There have been frequent complaints about drinking by under-age persons at late-night functions. Section 35 of the Bill seeks to correct this abuse by making it an offence, both for the licence-holder and the under-age person, where anyone under the age of 18 is on licensed premises while an exemption order is in operation. I have already referred to this proposal in my comments on special exemptions.
Section 36 restricts the presence of persons under the age of 18 in off-licensed premises which are structurally separate. Under this section, persons under that age will be allowed on such premises only when they are accompanied by a parent or guardian, or where their employment in the premises is not prohibited. It would, I submit, be unreasonable to impose a total ban on persons under the age of 18 from entering off-licensed premises. If that was the case, children — and even babies in prams — could not accompany their parents into the licensed section of supermarkets. I should mention, in this connection, that the provision whereby a person over the age of 15 years could purchase intoxicating liquor from an off-licence, where the liquor was in a closed vessel containing not less than one pint, will no longer apply — this will be the effect of section 4 of the Bill, which repeals section 11 of the 1924 Intoxicating Liquor (General) Act. Deputies will notice a series of penalties for contraventions of section 36, both for persons under the age of 18 who contravene that provision and for licence-holders who allow unaccompanied persons under the age of 18 to be in their structurally separate off-licensed premises.
Section 37 of the Bill provides a very useful weapon in the fight against under-age drinking. It gives the Garda powers to remove containers of alcohol from any person who is in a public place, and who appears to be under the age of 18, where the Garda suspects, with reasonable cause, that an under-age drinking offence is being or has been committed. This will give the Garda powers in relation to occasions such as so-called cider parties which are not only detrimental to the young people involved but are a source of nuisance to people living nearby.
Finally, in relation to under-age drinking, I would like to say a word about section 38. This section deals with the employment of persons under the age of 18 in licensed premises. The present law in this respect is contained in section 12 of the 1924 General Act, a section which is now being repealed. Under that provision, no female under the age of 18 and no male under the age of 16, apart from specified relatives of the licence-holder, could be employed in a licensed premises. Section 38 now gives a common minimum age-limit of 18 years for males and females, with a minimum age-limit of 16 for specified relatives. It is usual for young persons to commence their apprenticeship in the bar trade at 16 years of age and section 38 allows this to continue.
At this point I would like to mention a subject which was raised on a number of occasions during the debate on Deputy Barrett's Bill — that is, the question of providing for an official system of age cards to help curb under-age drinking. I would like to make a few comments on this suggestion. I would point out, first of all, that unofficial systems of this kind have already been tried in particular localities, with varying degrees of success. When people speak of the adoption of an official system, I presume they have in mind the establishment of a countrywide system operated through a body such as the Garda Síochána, with penalties for the abuse of such cards and statutory backing for their use, such as a provision that licensees and the courts would have to accept them as evidence of the age of the party presenting them.
While the age of 15 is also significant in relation to presence on licensed premises, we are here speaking of cards which would show that the bearer is aged 18 or over. In my view, any such system would have to be voluntary — there could be no question of compelling all persons who wish to patronise licensed premises and who are aged between 18 years and, say, 21 to have such cards with them. Many such persons will be merely taking a cup of coffee or a snack and will not wish to drink intoxicating liquor. Another basic point is that the initial discretion as to whether to look for the card in a particular case would have to be with the licensee. To put it at an extreme, there will be very young children who will obviously be under 18 and middle-aged and elderly people who will obviously be over that age.
Any system of the kind in question would have to be aimed at the marginal cases, that is, cases where an observer might be in doubt as to whether the person in question was under or over 18. In practical terms, it is the licensee concerned who must make the initial judgment in such cases, so that there could be no general compulsion on licensees to look for age-cards. Of course there will be nothing either in the existing law, or in the Bill provisions, to prevent a licensee refusing to supply drink or refusing admission to a structurally separate off-licence or to a late night extension, where he thinks the person concerned might be under 18. Deputies will note from Part IV of the Bill that in all relevant cases it will be a defence for the licensee to prove that he had reasonable grounds for believing that the person concerned was over 18. The provisions of the Bill are such that there will now be a strong incentive on licensees to look for evidence of age in doubtful cases and for young persons age just over 18 to supply themselves with such evidence. In the case of a prosecution, it would be matter for the court to decide what constituted reasonable grounds so far as the licensee is concerned, but doubtless they would include production of any document which showed that the person concerned was over 18. Reasonable grounds in this context might also include an assurance from a mature person known to the licensee that the young person concerned was aged over 18. Of course a countrywide system of age-cards organised through a body such as the Garda Síochána could provide such evidence but such a system could well prove expensive to install and operate. It is possible that the expense in question could be offset by making a charge for the issue of the card but there would be many young men and women of 19 or 20 years of age who would not be prepared to pay such a charge, since their ages could be readily established by other means or they might feel that it was clear from their appearance that they were over 18. In this connection, it is relevant to remark that the expense of establishing an official, countrywide age-card system would only be justified if there was a large-scale take-up of the cards by people in the age-group at which they were aimed.
There are other points to be borne in mind. Persons who had obtained age-cards might well find that they did not have the card with them when they wished to purchase or consume intoxicating liquor and in such cases, alternative evidence of age would have to be acceptable. Age-cards could of course be abused either by counterfeiting them to help get drink directly for under-age persons or to help older teenagers of 18 or 19 in getting drink from off-licensees for their under-age companions. I would point out that although under the existing law a licensee can be convicted if he knowingly supplied drink to an under-age person, the under-age person who purchases and consumes the drink cannot himself be prosecuted. Under the Bill, however, whereas the licensee will have a defence if he had reasonable grounds for believing that the person concerned was over 18, the under-age person who purchases and consumes the drink can himself be prosecuted under section 33. This should prove of considerable assistance to those many licensees who might be genuinely concerned about difficulties which the provisions of Part IV of the Bill would present for them. In view of all these considerations it was decided not to make provision in the Bill for the establishment of a countrywide system of age cards for the purposes of the Intoxicating Liquor Acts. I should mention, in this connection, that the desirability of introducing a system of age cards in the context of the liquor licensing laws has been considered, and rejected, by official committees in Britain and in Northern Ireland.
Deputies will see that careful consideration has been given to the question of introducing a system of age of majority cards in relation to the purchase and consumption of intoxicating liquor. My own view is that the case for such a system has not been clearly established and that it would be best to see how the new provisions in Part IV of the Bill work in practice before deciding whether the introduction of such a system is warranted. However, in view of the interest already expressed in this subject in the context of Deputy Barrett's Bill, Deputies will doubtless wish to give their own views on the question. Finally, I should mention that the question of introducing a general system of identity cards was referred to during the debate on Deputy Barrett's Bill. This, of course, raises issues going far outside the ambit of the intoxicating liquor legislation and would not be appropriate for discussion in this context.
I would like to turn next to Part V of the Bill which proposes a number of changes in relation to registered clubs. In principle such clubs are private establishments where members enjoy a common interest and where the law allows intoxicating liquor to be supplied to the members themselves and their guests. I have, however, received complaints that in many such clubs the law regarding the supply of intoxicating liquor is not being observed, so that in effect a public house trade is being carried on and that some clubs, at least, are tending to become merely drinking clubs, contrary to the intention of the Registration of Clubs Act. Part V contains provisions to help remedy any abuses that exist.
Section 40 will make it clear that the club rules must forbid the supply of drink to persons aged under 18. Section 41 of the Bill will allow clubs to be inspected on the same basis as licensed premises. At present a club can only be inspected by the Garda Síochána on an order from a member of the Force of at least inspector rank. This amendment will allow for easier and more rapid detections of breaches of the law in registered clubs. Section 42 will allow objection to be made to renewal of club certificates by persons living outside the parish where the club premises is situated. At present only persons living within the parish can so object. I am told that publicans and others living close to club premises do not like to object to renewal of certificates because of the hostility they might incur and, in the case of publicans, that this could be commercially damaging. Section 42 will bring clubs into line with licensed premises generally so far as objection to certificates is concerned. Finally, section 44, with the Schedule to the Bill, will provide increased penalties for a range of offences relating to registered clubs.
In Part VI of the Bill I am taking the opportunity to increase a number of penalties under the licensing Acts and the Registration of Clubs Acts, where the level of fines has fallen out of line with current monetary values. These new increased penalties are provided for in section 44 and the Schedule and individually call for no comment from me at this stage. Many of the fines have been on the Statute Book since the last century and the large percentage increases are justified on that ground alone.
One particular penalty in the Schedule which I should mention is that provided in section 17 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act, 1927, for the offence for being "found-on". The present minimum penalty for being "found-on" is £1 and the maximum £5. I propose to increase these amounts to £25 and £50 respectively. This will give a much greater incentive to customers to leave licensed premises voluntarily by the end of drinking-up time and should help licensees in clearing their premises at closing time.
I said at the outset of my speech that this Bill was concerned with some of the main principles underlying the licensing laws. These include the kinds and number of licences, the permitted hours and the age at which persons can buy or consume alcohol. However, this measure is not a comprehensive Intoxicating Liquor Bill, since it does not cover anything like the entire field of the licensing laws. A further examination of the liquor laws may identify the need for further changes and, if so, a second Bill can be brought before the Dáil. I cannot say as yet what matters might be covered in a second Bill but some areas which may need to be thoroughly examined are the questions of late night drinking and sales from offlicences. It would not be unusual for two Liquor Bills to follow in quick succession. This happened in 1924 and 1927 and again in 1960 and 1962. Not only could areas of the law not covered in this Bill be tackled in a second Bill but, if experience shows that any provisions of this Bill need amendment, this could be quickly remedied.
I am expecting a very wide-ranging debate on this Bill and many Deputies will probably have their own particular suggestions as to what the Bill should cover. I will be very glad to consider all proposals which are put forward during the debate. Where the subject matter of such proposals is not appropriate for inclusion in the Bill now before the House, they can be considered in the context of a possible second Bill. However, I consider it important to proceed now with all possible haste on the matters covered by the present Bill and I would point out that any major changes to the Bill outside those areas could cause major delays as the Bill proceeds through the Oireachtas.
I commend the Bill to the House.