HC Deb 19 October 1973 vol 861 cc613-53

2.5 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Lane)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the Erroll Report on Liquor Licensing Laws (Command Paper No. 5154). This is a welcome opportunity to debate the report of the Erroll Committee and it follows the debate in another place earlier this year. This is an important report and it recommends changes in our licensing law which could have far-reaching social implications. It is also a comprehensive report. I shall try to cover as much ground as I reasonably can in the time but I do not want to speak for too long because we are short of time and I know that a number of hon. Members want to speak.

I also hope that the House will excuse me if I have to leave a little before the end of the debate in order to fulfil longstanding engagements in Yorkshire, but my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State will be back in the Chamber shortly and he will listen to the rest of the debate and, if time allows, make a short speech at the end.

First, I express the warm thanks of the Government to Lord Erroll and the members of his committee for the speed and thoroughness with which they did their work. Whether or not we agree with all their recommendations, the report clearly shows a complete grasp of the complexities of the licensing law and it is of great use to everyone concerned, inside or outside the House. We can also congratulate them on having produced a unanimous report. Liquor licensing is a subject which arouses strong emotions and on which widely divergent views are held. A fine judgment was required by the committee in weighing the arguments and coming to conclusions. I am sure that the House is extremely grateful to the committee.

I remind the House of the origin of the work. This was in the report of the Monopolies Commission in 1969 which recommended that the liquor licensing law should be substantially relaxed so as to allow any retailer to sell liquor whose character and premises satisfied certain standards. The Monopolies Commission was concerned to remedy certain economic effects of the tied house system which it found to be against the public interest. But the recommendation had obvious social implications which the commission could not consider, and it was to look at these social implications and to review the whole range of licensing law in England and Wales that the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling), set up the Erroll Committee with very wide terms of reference. It started work in April 1971 and its report was published early in December 1972.

On publication, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made it clear that before reaching any decision on the recommendations he proposed to assess public reaction and obtain the views of interested organisations, such as the licensed trade, the local authorities, the brewers, and the clubs. This process of consultation and listening continues, and the debate today is part of it. As we see it, the House of Commons, has a vital role to play in reflecting public opinion on this question and in helping it to crystallise.

The Erroll Committee found that in many respects the law needs changing. and we agree. It proposed a comprehensive package of changes. Many of its proposals have aroused little or no controversy and the Government are disposed to accept them, as I shall explain. Others, we know, are much more controversial, particularly the proposals for lowering the minimum age and for making opening hours more flexible. These proposals try to take account of the changes in our social life and our leisure habits and of the wider horizons which people have from travelling abroad. But they have aroused deep feelings, particularly in people who fear that they would lead to more drunkenness and, what is worse, more alcoholism, and one must take full account of those feelings.

Our aim must be to promote changes in the licensing system, if they are needed because of changes in the social habits of the community, which will give people more freedom and more choice, provided we can be reasonably sure that any changes in the availability of alcohol will not encourage abuse by those who cannot drink alcohol only in moderation. That is our general aim, and I want to add three principles which the committee said it had tried to reflect in its proposals—that the law should be simple, that it should be consistent, and that, above all, it should be acceptable to the public at large. We share those aims. We do not intend to deal piecemeal with the Erroll recommendations. Before deciding what changes to propose to Parliament we shall want to be sure that they will command the maximum public support.

I shall come back a little later to the area of controversy but I want to touch briefly on the important but less controversial changes which the Committee proposed. First of all, there is the new licensing system. The committee looked carefully at the existing system under which a liquor licence is granted to an individual in respect of particular premises. Whether the application is in respect of an on-licence or an off-licence, the justices take into account the applicant's fitness to hold a licence and, at the same time, the suitability of the premises. Thus two quite unrelated sets of features are considered together. Accordingly, the committee proposed a new procedure with two separate licences. Anyone operating the premises would hold a personal licence, on the basis of his personal fitness to operate any licensed premises. A licence would also be issued in respect of the premises only, certifying their suitability as licensed premises. I emphasise to the House that the two licences would be entirely separate. The holder of the personal licence could, for the three years of its validity, use it to operate licensed premises anywhere in England and Wales, subject only to conditions about the type of premises he could operate.

The premises licence would be granted after consideration of all relevant factors including structure, suitability for the neighbourhoor, nuisance and amenity disturbance. No premises licence would be issued unless the local authority had given tile premises a certificate of suitability. This would relate to matters more properly the concern of the local authority than of the justices, including planning, food hygiene, public safety and fire precautions, sanitation and building regulations. We believe that local authorities would welcome the transfer of this function to them, and that it would be seen to place the responsibility in the right hands. There would be only one type of premises licence, but justices would be able to attach conditions to the licence; for example, in the case of off-licence shops. These basic proposals for a new licensing, system appear well considered and they have been widely welcomed. The balance seems to the Government to be heavily in favour of their adoption.

Next, there is the question who should be the licensing authority. There has also been a sympathetic reception for the committee's recommendation that liquor licensing should continue to be the responsibility of licensing justices, with their close contact with the problems of drunkenness and law and order. The local authority associations have not pressed their original view that licensing should be in the hands of the local authority, but now that the issue of a separate premises licence has been proposed there is some feeling that this should lie entirely with the local authority.

To keep my speech as short as possible, I want to tell the House of our provisional conclusions about three other matters which are non-controversial, without giving our reasons for them. We are also inclined to agree with three other recommendations: first, the ending of the compensation system—and we shall be having consultations about that; secondly, the winding-up of the licensing planning committees and the licensed premises committees, to whom I want to pay tribute this afternoon; and, thirdly, the demise of the arrangements for licences in suspense and the special provisions relating to seamen's, police and prison canteens.

I want to turn next to the main area of controversy. I ask the House to remember that all of these reforms which are largely uncontroversial would produce an enormous simplification of the law, which on these matters occupies over fifty sections of the Licensing Act 1964. Let us therefore not think of the Erroll Report as being essentially controversial. In fact, in the public debate upon it so far, attention has concentrated on four main issues; the question of need, the question of opening hours, the minimum age for drinking in bars and the concept of family cafes serving drinks, and the recommendations about clubs. These are matters of great importance, and ones which may well attract most attention from those taking part in this debate. I will deal briefly with each in turn.

The question of need was one which the committee—rightly, I am sure—regarded as among the most important matters it had to consider. It proposed that licensing justices should no longer have power to limit the numbers of licensed premises in their area on the grounds that the needs of the locality were adequately met. And I do not think it altogether surprising that this proposal has failed to find favour among many in the licensed trade and in church and temperance movements.

The committee based its proposal broadly on three arguments: first, that the report of the Monopolies Commission had shown that the present law had the effect of limiting competition and discouraging potential entrants to the trade. thus militating against the consumer's interests; secondly, that the considerable differences of approach among justices in applying the "need" criterion had resulted in an unacceptable degree of uncertainty in the administration of the law; and, thirdly, that it was not part of the licensing justices' function to assess whether there is a market demand for any proposed new facilities; the legitimate purposes of licensing control could be achieved by giving the justices powers to insist on proper standards for licensed premises and to determine the fitness and competence of the applicant.

We agree that it is not the function of the licensing law to protect existing licence-holders from competition.

The brewers and other organisations representing the licensed trade have argued, as they did in evidence to the committee, that abandoning the concept of need will lead to a proliferation of outlets and to a decline in the standards of premises. Church and temperance organisations—and some medical bodies—have represented that an increase in outlets would increase alcohol consumption markedly. I do not think that this would necessarily follow in all areas, but it is an argument to which Members will wish to give careful consideration.

On the question of how effective is the "need" criterion now, the committee has argued strongly that the difference of approach among justices in applying the criterion makes it a haphazard system of control—indeed, in respect of off-licences, an almost non-existent control. We are disposed to agree with the committee that its proposals for strict control over the standards of the premises and the fitness of the licensee are preferable. At all events we must weigh the dangers that might flow from increasing the number of outlets against the conclusion of the Monopolies Commission that only so could the disadvantages of the tied house system be offset.

Secondly, among the controversial issues, on opening hours the committee recommended that the general permitted hours of opening should be 10 a.m. till midnight.

Not surprisingly, this proposal has been broadly welcomed by the brewing, hotel and catering industries, but it has been strongly opposed by church and temperance organisations, by important sections of the medical profession, and by most private individuals who have written to us to express views. It probably fair to say that this correspondence does not necessarily represent a true sample of public opinion. On the whole, people who strongly oppose any proposed change are more likely to express their views than those who accept or welcome the change. The results of polls taken shortly after publication of the report showed a divided public opinion. In fact. it was an even balance.

The main objections to longer hours of opening are that they would lead to a substantial increase in the consumption of alcohol, to problems of continuous drinking, and to a marked growth in the number of alcoholics. There are also substantial objections on grounds of road safety, public order and nuisance—in particular, noise. There is seen to be a real risk of a significant increase in offences of drunken driving and in the numbers of road accidents both in the early evening rush hour and late at night, and we must look at this in the context of the current 20 per cent. annual increase in offences of drunken driving. There were 56,000 of these offences last year.

The Erroll Committee proposed certain safeguards on opening hours, of which I remind the House. The committee said that in the interests of public order, health, safety or amenity, licensing justices should be able to require a break of up to two hours between 7 p.m., or to fix closing time at any hour between 10 p.m. and midnight. In this way the committee proposed flexibility in the public interest. It also proposed flexibility in the commercial sense and said that a licensee should be allowed to open and close when he liked, within the permitted hours, in response to demand. The committee thought that the law should provide that nothing in any tenancy agreement should even indirectly affect the licensee's right in this matter. We must remember that even now the opening hours are only permitted hours during which the licensee is not obliged by law to remain open. The interests of licensees are extremely important here, and they would like statutory maximum daily hours. This is certainly, as we see it, a possible solution.

I turn now to the third big area of controversy—the recommendations dealing with young people and children. The committee's proposals that in certain circumstances children under 14 should be allowed access to licensed premises and that the minimum drinking age should be reduced from 18 to 17 have also aroused widespread controversy. So far as children are concerned the objections are based on the assumption that allowing children into public houses would subject them to dangerous influences. But in considering these proposals too, the House should look at the safeguards which the committee proposes. Before children could be admitted to a bar, the licensee would have to apply to the licensing justices for a certificate that the public interest did not require the exclusion of children from that part of the premises. The justices would have absolute discretion to grant a certificate or not, and they could attach conditions. They would be able to suspend or revoke the certificates on any complaint.

It is clear, too, that the types of bar to which children might be allowed access would not be ordinary public bars, and still less bars of the "spit and sawdust" sort, but separate rooms where children could sit with their parents at tables and be served with refreshments and nonalcoholic drinks. Conditions could, and I think would, be imposed that children should be accompanied by an adult and should not stay beyond a certain hour.

These safeguards seem to us substantial ones, and I think that this recommendation certainly warrants closer and more sympathetic attention than it has had from some quarters so far.

The question of the reduction in the minimum drinking age is an extremely difficult problem. We all know that there are very many young people of 17 who are in regular employment, who are responsible people, with a responsible attitude, and it is difficult to say to them, "You are old enough to get married and to drive a car, but not to go into a public house and buy a drink". I suspect that this is what the Erroll Committee had in mind.

Nevertheless, one of the main arguments advanced against lowering the age to 17 is that it would not ease the problems for the police and licensees in enforcing the law on under-age drinking but would merely transfer the problem to a still younger age group. It would also mean that teenagers would be exposed to the influence of drink at the same time as they can first obtain a driving licence, and while they may be still at school. Certainly the present high accident rate among 17-year olds seems to suggest that the combination of inexperience in driving and unfamiliarity with the effects of alcohol could indeed be lethal.

It is also argued that there is very little public support for reducing the minimum age. An opinion poll which was published soon after the committee reported showed 65 per cent. as thinking a reduction in the age limit to 17 a bad idea, and only 28 per cent. as supporting it.

Finally, in this area of controversy we should note that the Clayson Committee, which has recently reviewed the Scottish licensing law, did not consider a reduction in the present age limit of 18 was justified.

I now turn to the question of registered clubs, which is the fourth issue which has aroused very sharp controversy. The Erroll Committee considered that its proposals for a new licensing system, greater flexibility in hours, and changes relating to young people, would remove any practical differences between licensed premises and clubs. It felt that a separate registration procedure for members' clubs would serve no practical purpose, and proposed one form of licence for any premises used for the supply of drink. The committee also recommended that the police should have a general right of entry to all licensed premises, including clubs.

These proposals have been warmly welcomed by church and temperance organisations, by the police and by certain local authority interests; but—and I think this is something the committee expected—the reaction from the club movement has been one of complete opposition.

The committee tried to make it clear that its proposals were not intended as an attack on the status and privileges of members' clubs generally, nor intended to deprive them of their ability to function in the interests of their members. The committee's view was that a club's status is determined basically by its own internal organisation and constitution, which would not be affected by assimilation into the ordinary licensing system. I recognise, however, that the contrary view is strongly held by the club movement, and I fully appreciate its concern over this.

I think the committee felt that the application to registered clubs of its pro- posals on hours of drinking and young people would not greatly affect the present situation. Certainly the degree of flexibility the committee proposed on permitted hours would go far beyond the concessions which clubs now enjoy.

As regards children, the only change would be the need for a justices' certificate before those under 14 were allowed access to parts of clubs used mainly for drinking. It has been argued that this would make it more difficult for clubs to cater for the family. But the committee considered that any place used principally for drinking should be vetted by some outside authority before children are admitted.

The committee's proposal on police rights of entry has provoked a strong reaction, and we must try to weigh the clubs' concern for their privacy and their argument that effective safeguards against abuse already exist against the committee's views that present trends in the club movement towards providing drink and entertainment to large numbers of members and guests are likely to lead to a situation in which tighter control is required.

I now turn to a major criticism of the Erroll Committee's Report, which has come from many health interests, which is that it does not give enough attention to the implications of the licensing law for the nation's health. Traditionally the licensing law has always been very much concerned with the social consequences of the use and abuse of alcohol. It may be said that the law was concerned to protect society against itself. But society changes, and attitudes change; drinking is in a sense more respectable than it used to be, and I think it is true to say that society nowadays is less concerned than society 100 years ago with alcohol as a general social evil.

But with this change has come, or should be coming, an increasing concern with the spectre of alcoholism as a particular and individual social danger. We live in an alcohol-using society, and while most people can drink in moderation we know that there is a minority who drink excessively, often with disastrous results for their lives, their families and their health. It is with this minority, and the danger of their number increasing, that society must be concerned, and with whose protection against themselves the licensing law must be concerned.

There are estimated to be between 200,000 and 400,000 alcoholics in England and Wales—people whose dependence on alcohol is such that it significantly affects their bodily or mental health or their ability to work. There are also an uncertain number of "problem drinkers" who are in serious risk of developing into alcoholics. This proportion of alcoholics is low compared with that in many other countries, but it is increasing. And it is increasing in parallel with the total national consumption of alcohol.

Our consumption has certainly risen. Spirits are up by 26 per cent. in the last five years, and by 10 per cent. in the last year alone. At the same time both the death rate from diseases associated with alcohol and the number of offences involving drinking have gone up. Though there are difficulties about building conclusions on statistical relationships of that kind, it does seem that such factors as the availability of drink, the price of drink, and general drinking habits and customs, have a direct influence on the number of people who drink excessively and who gradually slide into alcoholism.

Indeed, some people, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, are apprehensive that some current trends in attitudes and drinking habits may be leading to a steeper increase in alcoholism. The Central Health Services Council, prime source of advice to the Secretary of State for Social Services on all health matters, is anxious about the possible effect of the Erroll recommendations; the Standing Medical Advisory Committee considers that those recommendations which increase the ease of access to alcohol must be expected to have an adverse effect on the health of the public, especially its younger members. Indeed, it is a particularly disturbing recent trend that the number of young alcoholics—sometimes only in their early twenties—is growing, and that "problem drinking" among the young is on the increase.

In health education particularly we must be concerned as much with prevention as with treatment, and in this context the Erroll Committee emphasised the importance of health education. A good deal is being done in health education in schools, and certainly many teachers are worried about the extent of drinking by young people—not only by 16- and 15-year olds, but by 14- and even 13-year olds. Yet it would be unrealistic to expect health education to achieve changes in young people's social behaviour in the face of all the other influences at work in society as a whole.

Undoubtedly adolescents are subject to enormous social pressures, which encourage them to start drinking earlier than before. In this context a significant point made by the Erroll Committee was that television advertising appeared dangerously attractive to the young. Since then the Independent Broadcasting Authority has assured my right hon. Friend the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications that it agrees that liquor advertising should not be particularly directed at young people, nor imply that drinking is a prerequisite of social success and acceptability. My right hon. Friend does not think any directive is necessary at this stage, but the question will be kept under review.

It is against the background of this growing concern about alcoholism that the Erroll recommendations must be considered. In some ways the report has acted as a catalyst. Certainly it has served to focus attention even more on this concern. As Members of Parliament we cannot ignore this concern, however much as individuals we may want to reform and liberalise the law, or however much we may want to broaden the base of the retail liquor trade so as to reduce monopoly control. Against the advantages that may accrue from changes in the law we have to try to measure the Possible ill-effects of these changes, both in terms of personal suffering and in terms of the resources required for prevention and treatment of alcoholism.

At the end of the day Parliament will have to decide, as it has always done, where to draw the line, how far it is safe to go, and which recommendations to accept and reject. These will be major social decisions, and we shall want to be sure that what we are doing is right, and based on the best information available. We may want to introduce changes gradually, or even to experiment on a local basis. In either case we shall want to be able to monitor the results so that the effects can be measured. This indeed was one of the committee's recommendations and we are in course of consulting on this point.

When the time comes a heavy responsibility will fall on Parliament. Until then the debate must continue, both inside and outside this House. The Government will listen with the greatest interest to the views which hon. and right hon. Members will be expressing in the course of today's regrettably short debate. And in due course we shall bring forward proposals for those changes which we believe to be in the general public interest and generally aceptable to public opinion.

2.37 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

The Opposition, too, regard the debate as being an opportunity to sound opinion and would not wish at this stage to take a concluding view about controversial recommendations of the Erroll Committee. Having said that, I am bound to say that my personal view is much more hostile than the opinion which has just been expressed by the Minister. I was a little surprised at the kind of reception he gave to the major recommendations.

Since Erroll reported, the response to the recommendations from organisations which do not have an interest to disclose has been virtually completely hostile. Although the public in public opinion polls have not been so universally hostile—indeed on some of the recommendations there is a much greater degree of balance of opinion than is expressed by the organisations—on no single issue, save perhaps the access of young children with their parents to public houses, has there been a majority of a public opinion poll in favour of the recommendations.

Therefore, it struck me as a little surprising that the Parliamentary Secretary should have gone as far as he did to accept what was said by Erroll. I am not surprised that Erroll came to the views reached. The committee in its report took leave to congratulate itself that it was unanimous in contradiction to previous experience of Royal Commissions and committees on the subject. It would have been a little unusual had the members not been unanimous. No interests opposed to the widespread sale of alcohol were represented on the committee, whereas on previous committees they had been. If the committee members had been alcoholics they might well have produced quite a different report because at least they would have understood fully the nature of alcohol as a social evil in our society. Because most of them are perfectly ordinary respectable social drinkers, they take the view, which seems to animate the mind of the Under-Secretary of State, that there is no social evil in the widespread use of alcohol, and, as with the cursory nod at the end of the hon. Gentleman's speech to the question of the alcoholic, that we should take a more liberalising view of the present restrictions.

I start from a different point of view. Alcohol is a drug. It is a drug which in its effects on the individual is not as serious as the narcotic drug such as heroin and LSD but it is considerably more serious in its effects than cannabis. There is no firm evidence yet of any cannabis addiction but there is considerable evidence of addiction to alcohol. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that even on the present statistics, which everyone knows are woefully an underestimate, there are in Britain 200,000 to 400,000 alcoholics. As with the Erroll Committee, the hon. Gentleman had to concede that the relationship between wider drinking patterns and the increase in alcoholism is clearly made out by the evidence.

In those circumstances we must ask the question—"if we had not had thousands of years of history of addiction or pleasure from alcohol, would we now, if it were a completely new drug which was being put on the market, approach the subject in the same casual air as that in which we have approached it so far in this debate". Would we say, we who have quite rightly refused to legalise cannabis, if alcohol were a new drug, that we would be prepared to make it available on anything like the scale that it is now available? The answer is clearly "No". As Erroll said, the reason we take our present view is that the pattern of social drinking is now so widespread that public opinion would not accept another view.

We accept that position, but it behoves us, when we consider any kind of recommendation for the wider availability of alcohol, to approach it with a good deal of care. There would be no reason for any kind of restrictive licensing law if it were not accepted that in some measure alcohol is a social evil. The real dispute is how widespread a social evil it is and how effective is the licensing law in curtailing that evil. On that point the committee said that there was not sufficient evidence in the research available for it to be sure. I accept that, but it seems that the right answer to the conundrum is put by the critique of the report prepared by the Addiction Research Unit of the Institute of Psychiatry of the University of London, which has only just become available.

I recommend that the Home Office consider that report before it goes any further towards the implementation of the proposals. I can shorten my speech a good deal because that report reflects my views very considerably. There are differences which I would take with the critique, but on the whole it approaches the matter from the right point of view and reaches the right conclusions. I need read only one paragraph to illustrate the point. Paragraph 19 of the report states: It is only in the penultimate paragraph of the chapter that any mention is made of the health question. The report continues: The Christian Economic and Social Research Foundation has attempted to demonstrate some relationship between the end of Resale Price Maintenance and the increase in the number of supermarket off-licences and in statistics of drunkenness. We have also heard it suggested from the Temperance Organisations that off-licences provide an unnecessary temptation to shoppers. We find ourselves unable to accept either of these arguments. The report continues: There is no presentation of an argument against the CESRF or Temperance positions, or even the hint of what criteria were used to reach these arguments. The report continues: This is an area in which research is notably lacking and we do not feel it may be said with any certainty that increases in consumption among particular groups are due to increases in outlets rather than to more fundamental social factors. If evidence is lacking then upon what grounds are the CESRF and Temperance Organisation arguments rejected? In such circumstances surely the only possible position is one of agnosticism rather than selective rejection of argument. That is my view. Until we are sure where there may be considerable serious effect upon our social pattern and upon the incidence of alcoholism, we should not go any further with the liberalising of the licensing laws. I ask that research should be done before and not after any changes.

I shall deal with the rest of the matters in the same order as the Under-Secretary of State. First, there are the technical matters. I accept that the proposed system of licensing seems to add to the clarity and simplification of the administration. I should not have any objection in principle, although we shall have to look at the matter in detail in the course of any future legislation, if all that remained of the Erroll recommendations was that degree of clarification and simplification. It would not then require any kind of urgent legislation. It could be done in a normal review of the licensing legislation, whenever that proved to be convenient.

On the major controversial matters, the argument about need seems to be the most important part of the recommendations. It is one which perhaps has been overlooked in the public discussion about the matter. The committee suggests that the 1961 Act was merely tinkering with the problem and had little effect upon the pattern of drinking. I do not know from where it received that judgment. It did not come from a close understanding of what has happened since 1961.

The major point in the 1961 legislation, from my experience of having to appear in such matters on occasions, was the matter which is now in Patterson's review of the legislation, namely: At the same time the unfettered discretion of justice to refuse new licences or ordinary removal was modified by giving the applicant a right of appeal against refusal. There were numerous other procedural amendments, but that was the most important. It meant that objectors could go to the quarter sessions and, whereas the licensing justices with their close knowledge of what was going on in their locality took a fairly restrictive view, the quarter sessions completely abandoned any kind of restrictive view.

In the passage which is quoted from one judge at a court of quarter sessions, there is indicated his attitude, which is the attitude which has been reflected by the Minister, namely, the attitude which grew amongst quarter sessions, with the result that for practical purposes the question of need which is present now in the licensing law was not abandoned but considerably relaxed.

The result has been that it is very difficult now to show any kind of cause against the provision of a new licence. The fact that fewer new licences have been issued since the 1960s is not because of the change in the law. It is because there has been a change in the pattern of the brewers in the outlets that they provide. They now provide fewer outlets, with bigger facilities, with a considerably greater cost involved. Therefore they do not need to have as many licensed outlets as once they did.

But to say that the 1961 Act had no effect is completely wrong. The fact that the number of offences of drunkenness, the incidence of drinking and the quantities consumed have all increased is partly due to that change in the law and partly due to the changes made in the provision of restaurant licences and supper licences. All that has led to a different climate which has had its effect. For that reason I should be very sceptical about any abolition of the justices' discretion in relation to need until we are more sure of the effect upon the social pattern of drinking.

In relation to hours, again I have made my position clear. It is an attractive argument that the outlets should be open at the times when the licensees feel that the public require them to be open. That would seem to meet everyone's desire. But the truth is that, as the committee pointed out in its report, although there has been a widening of hours in recent years with some degree of latitude about opening and closing, whenever that has been done the pattern in the whole of one licensing area has been that the outlets were open for all the time. The licensed vituallers are opposed to 14 hours' provision of drinking if that is to be continuous. What is said against that is that it will not be continuous and that the licensee will make up his mind how he can do that against the pressures which in the past have dictated that the maximum hours for opening were the minimum hours.

The committee suggests that there should be some protection for the tenant licensee against his landlord, the brewer in a tied house, which would require some amendment of the Landlord and Tenant Act. Then the committee says that that could not apply to managed houses where there is an employer-employee relationship and where a change in the Industrial Relations Act would be required. I do not know what kind of change would give the employee-manager any kind of protection. But I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price), who represents the interests of the licensed victuallers in this House, to consider that matter.

If anyone is able to provide a piece of plant as expensive as a modern public house and is allowed to open it for 14 hours a day, he will want to open it for that time because the marginal cost of additional staff for the extra hours will be nothing like the cost of closing it for that period, given the opportunity to make further sales. But since the tenant licensee would not want to do that, the trend towards managed houses would continue with greater acceleration. The tendency in new houses especially would be that brewers would put in managers on shift systems so as to cover the whole 14 hours.

To talk as if we are not extending the period and to suggest even that the same hours or even fewer hours will provide the period wanted by the public seems to be living in cloud cuckoo land. In fact there would be wider hours, and we do not know what that would mean in terms of the effect on the increase in alcoholism. We do not know what it would mean in terms of its effect on road safety, especially in the afternoon peak hours, when we know that there is a statistical relationship between the closing hours of public houses on Friday and Saturday nights and the number of road deaths. If we add afternoon drinking in the present obligatory two-hour period, is not it possible that we shall have an increase in the number of road deaths in the peak hours of road traffic, which are between four o'clock and six o'clock in the evening? We simply do not know. Until we know, I do not believe that we should take the risk of going further.

I find the access of children much more difficult. Undoubtedly there is a strong case for saying that where a family is going out together it is to the advantage of all that they should be allowed to go into the public house as a family unit. But there are difficulties about creating an atmosphere in which children grow up in an environment which helps them at any rate to begin to take alcohol when they grow to teen age. I am not happy about that. If it can be done in a way which clearly demarcates the division between the public house section and the cafe section of the premises, I can see little objection. If there is a family room set aside for the provision of light refreshments and drink for the family, I am in favour of it. But I cannot believe that there is a great demand for children to be taken into public bars. That, too, requires some sampling of what the public feel.

The position is now clear about registered clubs. The biggest growth in the country in the provision of new outlets is in registered clubs. Certainly that is the case in my own part of the country. If we do not have some kind of control by the licensing justices over the provision of registered clubs it will be extremely difficult to control any wider use of alcohol. I am prepared to consider that matter, but I do not form any decided view on it.

In the end I return to the point with which I started. The Under-Secretary made it plain that we face an increase in the deleterious effects of alcohol. For the reasons he gave, we should not be prepared to take the risk of much wider drinking patterns than we have now. Unless we are sure, as a result of careful research, that there is no link between longer hours, the wider provision of outlets and the uncontrolled use of off-licences and the social-evil effects that follow from alcohol, I shall be prepared to take only a careful view of the recommendations of the report.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Order. I am sure the House will not mind my saying that six hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, and the only chance of that happening is that each speech should be limited to 10 minutes.

3.0 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

Without purposely being rude to the two Front Bench speakers, may I say that although I quite understand that my hon. Friend the Minister is almost bound to do justice by the enormous report we are discussing as well as he can, I find it hard to believe that the pomposity should extend to their taking just three minutes short of an hour between them, when we are limited to a total of less than two hours' debate.

With the utmost deference to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I feel that your remarks might have been noted by both Front Bench speakers, although I understand the difficulty in which my hon. Friend is placed. The rest of us are also in a difficult position. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) represents certain important interests, just as important from his point of view as the interests represented by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price), and my hon Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) represents other interests, no doubt just as important as the other two. I represent no interest, except that of someone who feels strongly about the drink trade in general.

I have tried to read the 514 pages that the debate is about—324 in the Erroll Report and 190 in the other report—to achieve a grounding to take part in the debate. It is now impossible for anyone other than the Front Bench speakers to speak for more than five or 10 minutes. Therefore, I cannot talk about the Erroll Report in detail, and shall confine myself to the one point that I want to make.

What worries me about the Erroll Report is the enormous amount that it contains, the great number of recommendations and the large amount of legislation that is suggested, some of it admittedly to get rid of old legislation, but much of it suggesting new legislation.

Towards the end of the report we read that the matter is only half done, because the committee wants all sorts of extra research to be carried out before anything is done. When shall we come to an end of the interminable talk about what will happen to the industry?

One thing we know about the industry is that it has gone sour on us in the biggest way. It has become a fiddle of the money boys who have no connection with the customer. The connection with the customer used to be the landlord, but he is being made a manager by all the greedy brewers and is no longer the contact with the general public. He does what he is damn well told to do or is thrown out.

That is the basis of the enormous drink industry, in which hardly a person in the country does not have an interest, even if it is an interest of hate. [Interruption.] I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East has connections that do not like the industry.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon), who thinks that drink is worse than cannabis on the whole. Even so, he, too, accepted the industry.

What I want to do is to get off all the guff and start from square one, which was suggested fairly strongly by the Monopolies Commission Report, although less strongly by the Erroll Report. The suggestion was that no brewer should be allowed to own any public house. I shall stick at that point, although there are a number of things I should like to say in that connection. I know that many licensed victuallers would be very worried at such a suggestion. Nevertheless, if we started from square one and then discussed all the other matters which would need to be done we would get somewhere. We might even get a reasonably free industry.

What horrifies me is what has happened in my constituency and has no doubt taken place in other constituencies. One licensee, whose mother had been the licensee after his father died—and his father in turn having been the licensee before him—the licence having been held by that family for about 49 years, was chucked out at the beginning of this year. He was not thrown out on the spot. He was given compensation. But it so far broke his spirit and heart—he was about 45 years old—that he was dead within six months. I could mention others who have been in similar situations. Fortunately, none of them has been mortally wounded by the injustice. However, people who were doing their jobs have been summarily dismissed by the money bags in the centre of London. That is where the drinks industry of this country is being run from.

The brewers do not give a damn about the customer. The little brewers who used to exist sold off their breweries. There were eight or ten breweries in my area when I first went there. When asked what they were going to do six, seven or eight years ago when the selling started in a big way—when Colonel Whitbread with his almighty umbrella started going round and promising to look after everyone—one said, "In order to stop being taken over we are going under the Whitbread umbrella." I said then that if they did that, within two years they would be sold up. I was wrong. They were sold up within 18 months.

The pass has been sold. The brewers today are not the old types of brewer who had some interest in local areas and customers, and knew what the situation was. Now they are faceless men who are interested basically in the spondulicks that comes from being the owners of an enormous empire of breweries.

I should like to see this whole matter done from the start. We can argue about the detail as much as we like and have great debates in which Front Bench Members can get down to it and talk about it for a couple of hours each. I am not concerned with the detail. My concern is with the principle, and the start of that principle, since this is the great take-over age, should be that brewers should not be allowed to own public houses.

3.8 p.m.

Mr. William Price (Rugby)

I have just listened to the most astonishing attack upon brewers that I have ever heard in my life. I should dearly like to follow in detail the remarks of the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell). I agree with most of what he said. No doubt he will get a telegram from the Brewers Society on Monday morning inviting him to lunch. I should like to go, but I am no longer included in its invitations.

I must declare an interest. I work for two organisations representing 50,000 publicans—and that is a lot of beer. I do not get beer in lieu I receive financial rewards. It is right that I should tell the House that. I do not feel that I can do their case justice in the 10 minutes available to me, but I will take no longer. However, it is regrettable that the Government should treat two years of hard work by a major committee in such a shabby way today.

Most licensees were apprehensive about the Erroll Committee. Much of that fear stemmed from the fact that the then Home Secretary, when he established it, described the licensing laws as archaic. I believe that the right hon. Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) was wrong, and his statement was all the more curious because this House had undertaken a major review of licensing reform only a few years earlier. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman was misinformed. He clearly believed that there was a wide public demand for some form of continental drinking, with tarted up coffee houses serving beer and spirits 24 hours a day to anyone, of almost any age, who went in.

That is not the case. I am certain that the vast majority of people are satisfied with the present system. What they might ask for if given the opportunity to do so is a little more flexibility in the licensing laws, particularly at weekends. The only real demand that I have come across for extended hours, day and night, is from my old colleagues in the National Union of Journalists. The right hon. Member for Barnet, who seemed determined to introduce a massive change, left the Home Office, and a new situation arose. I do not believe that the present Ministers are enthusiastic about changes, and I am certain that we are today attending a funeral service.

I should like to deal with many points arising out of the report, but I must restrict myself to two, both of which are important to publicans—children in pubs, and drinking hours.

Licensees do not want children in public bars and nor—in my view—do the customers. There are many reasons for that attitude, and they are self-evident to us all. I hope that the House will have nothing to do with any such proposal, but a situation can arise, particularly at holiday resorts, when it is safer and more convenient for parents to take their children into a pub rather than, as some unfortunately do, leave them in the street or paddling in the water.

What we are suggesting—and my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) touched on this—is that where there is sufficient demand a publican should be permitted to turn part of his premises into a family unit and allow children in there if accompanied by their parents. I am sure that such a compromise would commend itself to the House and to people who, like myself, prefer not to see children in public houses. I hope that the House will consider that simple proposition.

I now turn to the crux of the argument about licensing hours. Should we give people complete freedom? Should we have strict hours, or should we seek a reasonable compromise? There are a number of myths about drinking hours. It is surprising how many Members of Parliament believe that publicans are in favour of round-the-clock drinking, on the ground that they will make a ready fortune. I know that that is not the case.

Apart from the economics of the thing, there are the most powerful arguments—social, industrial and domestic—to show that those who want no restrictions of any kind are wrong. Some of those who shout the loudest in the House and outside are those who use the pubs the least.

Erroll recommends drinking at any time between 10 a.m. and midnight, at the discretion of the licensee, and we believe that qualification to be important. The real problem with the present system is that all pubs tend to be treated alike. They are virtually forced to open, if not by the justices then by the brewers, at ridiculous hours when there is no demand. Staff have to be paid, overheads have to be met, but there are no customers.

Licensees did not ask for 14 hours' drinking a day. They recommended 9½ hours, at their discretion. The 14 hour proposal is unnecessary and unwanted. It will cause far more problems than it will solve. But what is important is that Lord Erroll has said that each pub has an individuality of its own. Circumstances differ from area to area. A house in Blackpool cannot be treated on the same basis as one in Barnsley.

Let the pubs make their own arrangements within strict limits laid down by Parliament. Let them run their businesses as they think fit. Let them answer to their customers, rather than to a law which did not make sense in the first place. There would not be much argument in the House about that.

The real bone of contention is the terminal hour. I cannot understand how anyone could fail to get all the alcohol he could possibly need by midnight. Both Front Bench spokesmen missed one point about alcoholism. Alcoholism does not have much to do with licensing hours, one way or another. It does not matter whether pubs are open longer or shut sooner. There are so many outlets, and alcohol is so readily available, that the alcoholic, basically, is a desperately lonely person who gets drunk every afternoon at home. That is the problem. Neither the brewers nor any of us, at any time, if we can help it, have any time for the alcoholic. That is a major problem, and it was missed by both Front Bench spokesmen.

The demand for continental drinking hours has come mainly from the tourist industry. It is not entirely logical. On the one hand, that industry argues that the British pub is a great tourist attraction and a wonderful thing. So it is. On the other hand, the industry wants to change the character of the British pub for the benefit of the people who flock here to use it. It is untrue to say that people are deterred from visiting Britain because they cannot drink at all hours of the day and night. Americans wandering around the Rhondda Valley knocking on pub doors at 3 a.m. are few and far between. I have established, through Questions, that during the five-year period for which I asked for information, not one tourist complained to the relevant Government Department. So that argument is a non-starter.

My interest in the terminal hour is mainly social. The licensee and his family are entitled to a night's sleep. Wives are entitled to get their men home at a reasonable hour and in reasonable condition. Most important of all, people living near pubs and clubs are entitled to peace and quiet. That is a major problem. For the first 24 years of my life I lived next door to a public house. I know how difficult that can be. People, including myself, do not leave pubs quietly. It is no joke for the elderly, for those with young children and those on early shifts to be woken up at 2 a.m. to the strains of "Now is the hour" wafting up their drainpipe.

There are many reasons for imposing a sane and sober closing time. Industrial absenteeism is one reason that we ought not to overlook. I want to deal with the effect of round-the-clock drinking, assuming that we were daft enough to introduce it, on prices. The myth to which I have referred—that longer hours will produce a greater turnover which would more than compensate for the necessary additional staff, heating, lighting and other overheads—is a nonsense. What would happen is that we would merely change drinking habits. People would visit pubs later in the evening. They would not drink any more merely because they had extended opportunities. Most people in Britain live on strict budgets. This partly meets the point to which my hon. Friend the Member for York asked me to direct my attention. People will not suddenly spend more money on beer because drinking hours are longer. They do not have the money. The average working man knows the amount of money that he has available to spend on his beer, cigarettes and football. He determines his budget very carefully. If he stays out drinking until 3 a.m., he knows that he will not be going out for the rest of the week, because he will have no money.

Therefore, a licensee would be faced with greatly extended hours, with all the expense involved, without any real expectation of an increased trade. Many would be forced out of business, and thousands of uneconomic pubs would go to the wall. Publicans are already working incredibly long hours, seven days a week. If anyone wants proof of that it can be found in the report of the National Board for Prices and Incomes on the problems of the trade. It was estimated in that report that the average tenant worked for 85 hours a week and his wife for 69 hours. I ask the House to consider whether it would be right to place any additional burden on these people. They would not be able to stand it. The alternative would be double staffs, which would mean 5p a pint on the beer for that item alone.

This debate has a great significance for the 50,000 publicans in Britain. We are not only arguing about their business. We are also concerned, in the vast majority of cases, with their homes. The hon. Member for Yarmouth mentioned that publicans were being kicked out of their pubs, but we must remember that these were their homes as well. This is, perhaps, the most evil aspect of the whole business of the transfer to managers in public houses. Landlords are of the general opinion that the Erroll Report is fair and objective. I can say on their behalf that they were grateful for the detailed attention which the committee gave to all the views expressed to it by my side of the licensed trade.

I doubt whether all of this will be acted upon, but it has been a worthwhile exercise in an area which is never less than delicate. From the point of view of the licensed trade the main virtue lies in the recognition of the right of a publican to run his house as he sees fit.

The committee also recognised its responsibility to the public—not only to the husband, the late night drinker but to his wife and children, as well as his employer and people living near public houses. It has produced a report which has created the minimum controversy with the maximum of good will. With certain reservation it is a good and sensible document but, ironically, no one will worry too much if we finally bury it today.

3.23 p.m.

Sir Bernard Braille (Essex, South-East)

Like the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price), I must declare an interest. Since the beginning of this year I have been chairman of the National Council on Alcoholism. I hasten to add that this is a purely honorary appointment.

I was greatly encouraged by the speech made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and also much enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon). I agree with both of them that it would be utterly wrong—and I take it to be the sense of the debate—for Parliament to discuss changes in our licensing laws without carefully weighing the growing problem of alcoholism in our society. In criticising, any relaxation of the licensing laws must in the long run lead to an increase in the consumption of alcohol; after all, that is the object. Any change in the law which would permit children to be taken into public houses, whatever safeguards may be ultimately laid down—as- suming that the Government were ever foolish enough to permit this—must increase familiarisation of the young with drinking habits. In the long run, that, too, would lead to an increase in the consumption of alcohol. That may not be the object but it would assuredly follow.

I agree that we cannot be certain what precise influence relaxations in the licensing laws would have on rates of alcoholism in our society. The Erroll Committee considered the matter but concluded that decisive evidence on the point was lacking. The report recognises—I do not see how it could do otherwise in the face of accumulated evidence—that alcoholism is a disease which causes immense social harm and misery, and great economic damage. But the committee was very vague as to its extent, and so was my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. The committee accepted an estimate supplied from the Office of Health Economics in 1970 that there were between 200,000 and 400,000 alcoholics in this country, representing perhaps 1 per cent. of the population of England and Wales. That is a very wide variation. It conceded that there might be more and it agreed that the availability of liquor …is a factor in the genesis of alcoholic dependence… Nevertheless, when all the argument was done, the committee came down firmly on the side of providing consider. ably more opportunity for drinking. However, there are authorities such as Ledermann in France and Schmidt in Canada, who suggest that rates of alcoholism in society are related to rates of consumption generally.

Yet our own official statistics should give us cause to reflect and to proceed with the utmost caution. For example, during the last decade we have seen a sharp rise in drunkenness, particularly among young people. In the 1950s offences of drunkenness among those under the age of 18 would have been fewer than 1,000; in 1972, the last year for which I have statistics, there were 3,605 offences in this age group out of the total of 90,198.

Moreover, there are alarming trends which we in the National Council of Alcoholism cannot fail to observe. The Bristol Council's last report, for 1972–73, said that while it was not its policy to comment on the use of alcohol except when a dependency or addiction is involved it felt …however we would be failing in our duty if we did not bring to the community's attention the immediate dangers to which young people are exposed in respect of alcohol. In the past 10 years no social problem can have received more publicity than the use of drugs by the young. The dramatic increase in the use of alcohol by teenagers over the past few years has been completely ignored. These comments are not restricted to teenagers. Teachers have been constantly seeking our help and advice in the past year in respect of excessive drinking and drunkenness among 11 and 12 year olds. That is a serious warning. Dr. Max Glatt, one of the world's greatest authorities on alcoholism and drug dependence, believes that today's statistics are a clear indication of the extent of the alcoholism problem we shall have to face in 10 years' time.

Even the Erroll Committee thought it right to draw attention to the fact that the number of alcoholism admissions to hospital and addiction units in England and Wales was running at the rate of about 8,000 a year. However, it was drawing upon statistics for the year 1968. Those figures are now very much out of date. In fact, there was a rise from over 8,000 in 1964 to 13,250 in 1971—an increase of 53 per cent. Moreover, it is our experience in the National Council on Alcoholism that about one-third of the cases now coming to us are of people under the age of 35.

The truth is that the Erroll Committee underestimated the size of the problem. I do not blame it—the nation as a whole has tended to ignore the problem. The reason is plain. So many people enjoy drinking—as I do myself—as part of one's daily life that they find it easy to ignore those who abuse, in public or in private, what to them is a normal and pleasant activity, and are reluctant to accept that alcohol is a drug, as the hon. Member for York reminded us, and that too great a dependence on any drug can gravely injure health.

In discussing the size of the problem I shall not bandy figures about, because I do not really know what the figures are. All I can say is that the National Council on Alcoholism firmly believes that we are dealing today with only the tip of an enormous iceberg and that alcoholism has become a serious, growing and immensely costly problem, which we neglect at our peril. I am glad that the Government recognise that this is so. My hon. Friend's speech in this connection was most helpful and for this reason I thought that the note of caution sounded by the hon. Member for York was most timely.

I want to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services for the help he has been giving the national council to set up regional information and advisory centres and for the growing encouragement he is giving to all those agencies engaged in treating and rehabilitating alcoholics. The national council now has nine information centres and we hope to double the figure in the next year or two. But we remain desperately short of funds.

Whatever Parliament decides about the reform of the licensing law, I hope that it will bear in mind the growing problem of alcoholic dependence and the need to check its spread. I cannot see how the proposals of the Erroll Committee help in any respect in that immense task.

To me, the conclusion is inescapable. If there is any relaxation of the licensing laws this must lead to more alcohol being consumed, with more revenue flowing, as a consequence, into the coffers of the Government and more profit accruing to the brewers. If, therefore, we are to consider ourselves a responsible and caring society, more money will have to be found by the Government, by local authorities and by the manufacturers of alcoholic drinks to help those organisations in the country which are doing their best by spreading information, by the provision of treatment and by counselling and advice to educate the general public, particularly the young, about the dangers of abuse of alcohol leading to dependence.

3.31. p.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

I hope that if I inadvertently transgress the time limit which you have so wisely suggested, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will not hesitate to call me to order. I represent no one but myself. My only connection with the liquor trade is that I happen to know some members of the South London Licensed Victuallers Protection Association, many of whose members carry out their business in my constituency and in adjoining constituencies. What they are most concerned about is the extent to which the licensees are being driven out of the public house trade and replaced by managers.

In 1969, the Monopolies Commission published its report on the supply of beer. On numerous occasions since then I have tried to find out from the Government what they are proposing to do about what I consider to be one of the important recommendations of this commission, which is contained in summary form in paragraph 415. That states: We conclude that the conditions which we have found to prevail … operate and may be expected to operate against the public interest since the restrictions on competition involved in the tied house system operated by the brewer suppliers concerned are detrimental to efficiency in brewing, wholesaling and retailing, to the interests of independent suppliers (including potential new entrants), and to the interests of consumers. The Government took no action at all on the recommendations in that report. They sheltered behind the old-fashioned pretext of saying, "The whole thing has to be looked at and we are going to set up a departmental committee on liquor licensing, to be known as the Erroll Committee." The only consolation that I derive from this report is that the Government will do nothing at all about it for many years to come.

One of the extraordinary paragraphs in this report shows how fundamental Issues are deliberately evaded. On the subject of the tied house and tenants and managers, the Erroll Committee state on page 260 of their report: It is our view, however, that the extent to which conversions to management threaten tenants' security is a matter for discussion solely between the brewing industry and the licensed trade. Thus the Erroll Committee slid out of the whole problem with those words. It went on to say, in regard to the tied house system, that it must now be for the Government to assess the position in the light of the Monopolies Commission's analysis of the Erroll Report. This is a marvellous example of how to pass the buck, and nothing will be done about it. The Erroll Committee seemed to labour under the delusion that the security of tenants is a matter for discussion solely between the brewing industry and the licensed trade.

Let us see to what extent there is real freedom to discuss important nego- tiations. I have details here of three cases provided by the South London Licensed Victuallers Protection Association. They are very concerned about the astronomical rent increases which the brewers propose to implement at the conclusion of the Government's freeze. They say: In view of the Government's intention to fight inflation perhaps you would draw their attention to this matter. The percentage of Increase varies from 140 per cent. to 750 per cent. I will give three examples of these increases. In one case the present rent is £480, the proposed new rent is £1,050, an increase of 200 per cent. In another case the present rent is £722, the proposed new rent £2,600, an increase of over 350 per cent. In the last example the present rent is £546, the proposed new rent £4,160, an increase of 750 per cent.

What do the Government intend to do about this? Do they intend to curtail these large increases to a more respectable margin? Are they going to restrict the increases to the extent to which they want to restrict wages in industry?

These are very important matters to the licensed trade, and I welcome this opportunity of bringing these facts to the attention of the Government because these are the things which are worrying the ordinary licensee. In view of the takeover bids and the financial manipulations to which the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) referred, I think that the old traditional public house is doomed, but let us try to do something for the licensees in the mean time.

3.37 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)

I will speak at considerable speed in order to compress what I have to say. First, I am very saddened by this debate and by the long obstruction this morning before it began, by three hours of business which could have been done in three quarters of an hour, with the result that there is a complete lack of opportunity to cover this subject this afternoon.

I was depressed by the speech, which fortunately represented only his own view, of the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon). It reminded me of Mr. Hudson in the days of the old Temperance Society. I was even more perplexed and confused by my hon.

Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir Bernard Braine) on alcoholism. Alcoholism is not really part of this debate. I have put forward recommendations to the Home Office and to the Department of Health and Social Security on how this problem should be dealt with by providing proper treatment for those who suffer from that medical condition. It has nothing to do with this debate. It was merely a method adopted by the hon. Gentleman for putting forward views which he could have expressed on another occasion.

It is my intention to reconcile the position of the publican and the citizen, the difficulties of those in the licensed trade, by slightly amending certain terms of the report of the Erroll Committee. I was the only Member of the House of Commons to give evidence before the Committee. I gave evidence for an hour and a half. I submitted 31 recommendations; the Committee adopted 20. The members of the committee said they were glad that I had turned up and they cross-examined me at length.

I claim to have a certain expertise in every aspect of these laws by virtue of my own practice over many years and because I was instrumental in the drafting of the Acts since 1961. The licensing laws should concern itself with three main groups—first, the character and conduct of the licence holder. History from 1495 to 1965 shows that to be necessary. I am happy to see that it is being kept that way and that it is justices of the peace who will be responsible for maintaining it that way.

The second vital need is for the preservation of public order on premises. That is where the publican and the citizen must be given a fair opportunity. At present the publican is not getting a fair chance, and the Government can take action now.

I shall outline a brief charter for the publican. First the Government must increase penalties for disorderly behaviour in pubs. They must prosecute promptly for assault those people who engage in disorderly behaviour. Thirdly, they must provide heavier penalties, and through the Lord Chancellor invite magistrates to use them, for those who carry offensive weapons in public houses. Fourthly, they must increase the fines for vandalism and secure that compensation is given for damage created in public houses. Sixthly, I should like to see an absolute right by way of injunction for a publican to refuse entry to people who have been a continuous nuisance in the past.

That is the first course of action to help publicans and to see that there is public order on the premises. I hope that these matters will be carefully noted.

The next step is control over the structure of licensed premises. Today such premises are purpose built and the purpose is to take down old buildings, renew licences and put up greatly improved premises. I shall quote from my own recommendation to the committee, which went as follows: That the planning and all matters appertaining to the design and suitability both of the site and of the design of such buildings are properly a matter for planning control. These functions should be performed by the local planning authorities. These functions should also include improvements relating to amenity, food, hygiene, public health and the safety of the premises including fire precautions. It is therefore right that we should split these responsibilities.

The justices of the peace should deal with suitability of the building, the licence and so on, attaching any conditions as they think fit. Preservation of public order should, again, be carried out by the local justices with their position very much strengthened. Control over the structure of licensed premises should fall to the local authority. I leave the whole subject of public order and how these provisions originally arose to turn to the system.

In 1961 we introduced entirely new laws relating to restaurants and residential licences. Of course these must now be given absolute freedom. The public want it and, speaking as I do for the English Tourist Board, the British Hotel and Tourist Association, the BHRA and all the rest—and I was for three years chairman of the all-party committee on tourism in the House of Commons—I say unequivocally that there is a universal demand in the tourist industry that we give greater flexibility and freedom. They do not want to offend and upset the most important part of their team, the publicans and those actually engaged in trade.

I will pass over the history of hours from the earliest days. In 1787 the first control was introduced to attack vice and immorality. I arrive at the recommendations which I put up which will answer this whole problem for the licensed victuallers, for Erroll and others. I thought at the time that I had managed to persuade the members of the Erroll Committee on this point. They were a very widely drawn crowd, including professors, priests and so on. Looking at the list, it is wrong to suggest that they were narrowly drawn. They were widely drawn because the civil servants in the Home Office insisted they should be. Erroll wanted a team of about five and I urged my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) in October 1970 to get on with it and to have no more than five in the hope that we could have this law last year. We are not even to have it this year.

We wanted five to seven members on the committee and then to bring their proposals to the House for critcism. The Home Office civil servants who took God knows how long before allowing the committee to be set up in March 1971 insisted on the widest possible representation and as a result there were 20 members.

We come to the important question raised by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) and others representing the interests of the licensed victuallers. He rightly said that the licensed victuallers will not tolerate 14 hours. They are absolutely right. The recommendation I put forward to the Erroll Committee and which I believe will be acceptable to the House as a whole was: The permitted hours should be not more than 9½ in any one period of 24 hours, and should be not more than 9 hours upon a Sunday and the minimum hours should be not less than 6 hours daily between the stated opening and closing hours. The publican must chose his own hours. The only people opposed to that are the police and that is because they believe that that arrangement would be difficult to supervise. Let the publican chose his own hours, but within a reasonable umbrella so that there does not have to be agreement between the Brewers Society and all the tenants in order to give each tenant complete protection.

I agree with the hon. Member for York that that would not control the managers. I want to prevent the gradual takeover of licensees to the point where all pubs are under managerial control. The most effective way is to make it not worth while to increase the number of houses under managerial control. The very largest houses will always be under management rather than under an individual licensee, but if we want to protect the character of the pub, and therefore the character and the conduct of the licensee, the best way is to ensure that there is control of the number of hours.

The licensees are willing to accept nine and a half hours and were so willing as long ago as 1962 when I first discussed this matter with the then chairman of the Brewers Society. They are still willing to do so.

Mr. William Price

indicated assent.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The hon. Member nods agreement.

They also accept nine hours on a Sunday. Obviously, it is best for them to chose their own hours, because they can then chose the pattern that best fits their neighbourhood. There may be the odd instance when a pub on one side of the street choses to open and close one hour before a pub on the other side of the street, but that is best left to the licensing justices to iron out, and they are good at that type of thing.

The justices will ensure that there is a reasonable pattern of hours throughout a neighbourhood, but the broad general choice should be left to the licensees. In that way they would avoid the 14 hours that Lord Erroll and his committee laid down. I appreciate his reasons for laying down 14 hours—Lord Erroll wanted width and felt that the licensees would be able to chose their own hours within that time, and he felt that the publican would be able to resist the pressure of the brewer and other outside interests. I do not accept that he could resist that pressure, and so we have to build in protection in another way.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

How are the licensing justices to exercise control over what the hon. Gentleman wants to be the free choice of the licensee but not of the manager?

Mr. Rees-Davies

Because of the speed at which I was speaking, I did not say that I accepted the protection contained in the Erroll Report, which says that there should be exemption for any two hours, that is to say, that between ten o'clock in the morning and midnight should be a period over which the licensing justices would have control to the extent of being able to say that a pub could not be open for two hours, perhaps because a building site was nearby, perhaps because of a local synagogue, perhaps because of a local sporting event. In that way the licensing justices would be able to use this regulator while leaving maximum discretion to the licensee.

Those are some of the matters with which I had wished to deal this afternoon. I have shown how to resolve some of the difficulties that have arisen. We could resolve the problem of reasonably protecting the interests of the licensee and the whole of the trade. We could extend opening hours, which is what the country generally wants, and we could give, particularly to dance halls and restaurants and the rest of that aspect of the trade, the freedom needed to expand their businesses, and we should be able to give the country the opportunity to come into line with Europe. It was the intention of the Conservative Party in 1970 to introduce a Bill of that nature. It is singularly unfortunate—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Order. May I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman what I said earlier in the debate about the length of speeches.

Mr. Rees-Davies

May I point out, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is not ten to four. There have been six speeches and there is still one to go, for which there will be 10 minutes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member has spoken for 13 minutes. There is only just time for one more speech, leaving nothing for the Minister.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I understood that the Minister was not going to reply. When I spoke to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, I understood that he was to open for half an hour and that it was intended that the debate should continue without a further Front Bench speech.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

Five seconds, possibly.

Mr. Rees-Davies

I shall be only 30 seconds at the most. If we retain the judicial system for the conduct and character of premises and if responsibility for structure goes to the local authority, we shall have a position in which alcoholism can be dealt with properly by medical agencies. We can achieve what is necessary at an early stage to introduce a suitable Bill instead of a Bill on a subject such as firearms, which could be thoroughly unpopular in the country.

3.52 p.m.

Mr. J. R. Kinsey (Birmingham, Perry Bar)

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. for your calling "Time, gentlemen, please". I have a family interest in the licensed trade and a constituency interest because of the clubs in the area that I represent.

I first refer to the unique nature of the drinking rules within public houses. I recognise that that subject has been dealt with by other hon. Members and that there is no need to add to their remarks. Public houses have a social place within the structure of our society. Because of my asociation with licensees, I shall refer particularly to the difficulties that are placed in the way of those employed in the licensed trade and the effects on registered member clubs throughout the country.

We rely very much on those who serve in public houses. I am reminded from my own family connections of earlier unlimited licensing hours. My mother-in-law used to work up to 12 o'clock at night before the premises were closed. She would then have to scrub and clean the place, and the premises would be open again at 6 o'clock the next morning. Heaven forbid that we ever return to those sorts of hours in the licensed trade.

Even now the licensed trade is working longer hours than any other section of the community. It is rather strange that we should find the Erroll Committee suggesting longer hours. The suggestion is that shift work could be employed. We must remember that there is a responsibility on managers for stock and stock shortages. They bear entire responsibility for stock.

It is a vulnerable trade. It is difficult to move into a shift system within the licensed trade. I cannot see such a move happening when there are incurred the increased costs to which the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) referred. Staff represents another difficulty. It is getting more and more difficult to recruit into the trade the necessary staff to serve. I should not like to say what difficulty there will be if extra hours are introduced.

I accept that there is a need for flexibility. I accept whatever has been said about that. However, it is a great pity that we are moving away from the tendency for private ownership of public houses. The public house trade is a unique and individual trade.

Another matter which is worrying licensees and which has not been mentioned today is the difficulty that faces a licensee when he must judge the age of a person drinking within his public house. The onus is completely on him. It should not be. The law should be changed in that respect, and it should be changed possibly before anything that we are now talking about in Erroll. Loosely associated with this subject is the committee's suggestion about allowing children into licensed houses. I am afraid that I could not support it.

I come now to the question of clubs. I deal first with the proprietors' clubs, which are owned by individuals. Here we require even tighter controls than the Erroll Committee suggests, because this is an area which is open to a great deal of abuse.

I then refer to membership clubs, which are run by their own members. These are the ones that really concern me. They are know as registered clubs. The Under-Secretary referred to their being vetted for children's use. However, I remind my hon. Friend that they are vetted before they become registered, and in my view that should be sufficient to carry them through on the question of considering them as ideal places in which to carry out a service to families.

There are many different types of members' club. There are working mens' clubs, golf clubs, political clubs and ex-Service men's clubs. They do a tremendous service to the community. They are run by dedicated officers, the majority of whom are completely voluntary and give a great deal of time to the community. My own club, the Kingstanding Ex-Service Social Club, is a tremendous success story. It serves the area extremely well and performs a great social service. Recently, it urged me to see the general secretary of the Clubs and Institutes Union, which has 4 million members. I saw him, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for meeting him at the Home Office and hearing his representations about the fears of clubs in this country.

One matter that concerns members' clubs is the proposed changeover to two licences involving the licensing of both the premises and of the person. Any change of the secretary or the steward holding a licence will be extremely difficult if the committee's proposal is adopted.

Another matter concerning club members in my area is the proposed right of police entry. They feel that it would not be an improvement. A great deal of control is exercised over individuals by the very fact of club membership.

Young people are definitely catered for in our clubs under their present system of management since they are democratically controlled by families who are members of them.

It must be obvious that all that we have heard about the hours of drinking in public houses applies equally to our clubs. I do not want to see us move away from the old pub and club system, going over, instead, to a continental type of cafe or drinking den.

3.58 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

Unfortunately, the debate has had to be very short. That was not the Government's fault. It had been thought that it would begin a good deal earlier. However, I assure all those hon. Members who have spoken that I have taken full account of what they have said.

I say to the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) that we have not been at a funeral today. I prefer to look upon this as part of the process of consultation to assist the Government in drawing up legislation to make our licensing laws more appropriate to modern means and conditions.

Our aim must be to achieve flexibility and freedom of choice so as to be of advantage to customers and the country as a whole, while avoiding running the risk of the greater use of alcohol or of putting a greater burden on the shoulders of licensees. That is how we shall approach this extremely useful report and what has been an interesting and valuable debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the Erroll Report on Liquor Licensing Laws (Command Paper No. 5154).

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