A proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill offering extra legal protection to staff assaulted whilst selling alcohol has been denied during a debate in the House of Lords.

The amendment aimed to create a separate summary offence for assault on a worker enforcing the provision of the Licensing Act for the sale of alcohol.

If successful, those found guilty and prosecuted summarily would have faced up to six months in prison as well as a fine of up to £5,000 while those convicted through the Crown Court would have received a two-year prison sentence and an unlimited fine.

During the debate, Lord Foulkes, who tabled the amendment, said: “At present, as the assault of workers who sell alcohol usually falls into the category of common assault, with the relatively lenient punishments on offer, it results in the Crown Prosecution Service deciding that it is not worth prosecuting. This has been the experience of a range of groups which are supporting my amendment: USDAW; National Pubwatch; the Wine and Spirit Trade Association; the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group, whose members include almost all major supermarkets; and the Association of Convenience Stores.”

Foulkes said these workers needed more support. “These are men and women who are charged, like the police, with enforcing the law,” he said. “They must refuse service to those who are underage or too intoxicated. If they refuse to do so, they face legal action, and even the potential loss of their licences and thus their livelihoods. Unlike the police, they have no additional protection for the additional service and for the grave danger it puts them in.”

Although the Minister of State for Justice Lord Faulks was “unpersuaded” by the argument and the amendment was withdrawn, he did agree to meet interested parties to debate the matter further  

ACS chief executive James Lowman welcomed the debate and future discussions on the issue. “Retailers and their staff carry out an important role in preventing young people accessing alcohol, and they should not be put at risk,” he said. “We are pleased that this issue has been raised in the Lords, and are keen to meet with the Minister of State to discuss the protection of workers selling alcohol further.”