HC Deb 25 March 1975 vol 889 cc258-63

3.33 p.m.

Mr. Mike Thomas (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to liquor licensing. I wish to draw attention to—[Interruption.]—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. Will hon. Members who wish to leave the Chamber please do so quietly?

Mr. Thomas

I wish to draw attention to what is in danger of becoming a public scandal, the plight of 27 people of some eminence who between them gave up a total of 48 months, and the civil servants who assisted them, and all the bodies and individuals that took the time and made the effort to give evidence to produce the Erroll Report on Liquor Licensing for England and Wales and the Clayson Report on Scottish Licensing Law, two eminently sensible and moderate reports. The first was presented in December 1972 and the second in August 1973. I allow my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that since then we have had two General Elections, but now is the time to implement the modest proposals in those reports to reform the liquor licensing laws.

I have not been encouraged by the almost pusillanimous and certainly inconclusive statements by Ministers on the topic since February last year. The time for implementation of the reports' recommendations is now. The object of my Bill, which has support from both sides of the House, is to give the Government an opportunity to implement the three main Erroll Committee recommendations for England and Wales.

The first recommendation concerned access to licensed premises. The Bill would not reduce the age of access or the age at which one was allowed to drink, but it would allow publicans, with the approval of the justices, to set aside rooms for the use of families, and would facilitate the continental café-pub idea which has for so long been prevented by legal technicalities from being introduced into this country.

The second of the major Erroll proposals was that the permitted hours should be from 10 a.m. to midnight. I can find no one who can provide an ordered and sensible justification of our present licensing hours. They are antediluvian. They have no basis in social practice, economic logic or just plain common sense. It is time we did something to put them straight.

Erroll's third recommendation was that the licence for a pub should be separated from the licence for a publican. At present the two are interleaved. There is no logical reason, and it militates against the removal from the list of a publican who is not fit to be one, or the removal of a pub with inadequate facilities or hygiene.

I am introducing the Bill because my main specialist interest in the House is in consumer affairs. For too long these matters have been decided by a conspiracy between the temperance lobby, the brewers and the publicans. I am concerned with the drinkers. Our licensing hours should be designed with at least their interests in mind.

I have received many letters since I announced that I was to introduce the Bill. A large proportion of them were in favour of changing our outdated laws. Those against raised some points that I should like briefly to answer.

On access, they said that pubs were unsuitable, and that parents want to get away from their kids when they go into a pub. My Bill would put no obligation on a publican to have a family room. He would be able to apply to the justices to have one if he wanted, but there would be no obligation on the justices to allow such a room. They would have to be satisfied that the premises, both the specific room and the pub itself, were suitable.

As for parents getting away from their kids, there would be no obligation to have such a room as I have said, and I believe that if the Bill were passed children would not be allowed in the majority of rooms in almost every pub.

Two points are raised on the question of hours. One concerns disturbance to those who live near public houses. The second is the question of the problems of the publicans. The Bill would give the justices power to order a pub to close at any time up to two hours before midnight if they felt that it would cause a disturb- ance if it were open later. Under the Bill there would be no possibility of brewers making publicans open at all the permitted hours. They would be able to open for the hours that they wished.

I am trying to get away from the idea of one law for the rich and another for the poor. At 10.30 p.m. or 11 p.m. the rich can go to a night club or restaurant and have their drinks. I know of no fish and chip shop which has been licensed to serve drink after hours.

I am glad to say that I have received no objections to the proposals on licence separation. I believe that the justices and the trade would welcome this reform.

There are some who are opposed in principle to any change in the licensing laws. I believe that that is an irrational position, but there are some hon. Members who adopt it. I ask them to read the report by John Davies and Barrie Stacey for the Scottish Home and Health Department on teenagers and alcohol. They showed four simple things. First, the heavy drinkers tend to be those who are introduced to drink at a late age. Second, those with disapproving parents who give alcohol the image of forbidden fruit are likely to induce their children in practice to be heavy drinkers in later life. Third, parents who make their children think that alcohol is not only forbidden fruit but some thing associated with adulthood and "grown-upness" will tend to make their children heavy drinkers later in life. Fourth, the commonsense and real limitation on drinking heavily is simple economic restriction.

It is the amount of money one has in one's pocket which in the end determines whether one becomes a heavy drinker if one wishes to do so. It is not access or hours, which have nothing to do with the case.

I believe that the changes which would be introduced by my Bill would be beneficial and would preserve the social customs of this nation but at the same time would make modest and sensible changes which are in keeping with the times.

3.41 p.m.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

I wish to oppose the motion. During the last 15 years we have witnessed a lot of permissive legislation which has not been beneficial to the public as a whole. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas), I am concerned about the drinkers. What I am concerned about is that if this measure is passed I can visualise that in a few years' time we shall have a greater problem on our hands in respect of alcoholics than we have today—and Heaven knows, we have a number of alcoholics today.

I believe that if the House this day allows this measure to proceed, we shall be opening the floodgates. It is not wanted in the general consensus of people to whom I have spoken, including people who drink. Like other hon. Members, I have received letters on the subject.

Question accordingly agreed to

I believe that Parliament should exerise its authority and oppose the measure because, in my humble opinion, to allow children into a pub, even though a room for them is set aside, is wrong. I would not wish to take my young granddaughter into a pub.

This is the thin end of the wedge, and we ought to oppose it.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order NO. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bill and nomination of Select Committtes at commencement of Public Business):—

The House divided: Ayes 122, Noes 35.

Division No. 159.] AYES [3.44 p.m.
Aitken, Jonathan George, Bruce Oakes, Gordon
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Gourlay, Harry Ovenden, John
Ashley, Jack Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Palmer, Arthur
Ashton, Joe Griffiths, Eldon Park, George
Bates, Alf Grocott, Bruce Pendry, Tom
Benyon, W. Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Penhaligon, David
Biggs-Davison, John Harper, Joseph Phipps, Dr Colin
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Hawkins, Paul Prescott, John
Bradley, Tom Hayman, Mrs Helene Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Brotherton, Michael Horam, John Radice, Giles
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Huckfield, Les Rathbone, Tim
Buchanan, Richard Hunter, Adam Reid, George
Budgen, Nick Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Johnson, James (Hull West) Rose, Paul B.
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Canavan, Dennis Jones, Dan (Burnley) Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Kaufman, Gerald Sillars, James
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Kelley, Richard Silverman, Julius
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Kerr, Russell Sims, Roger
Cohen, Stanley Kilroy-Silk, Robert Skinner, Dennis
Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen Lamborn, Harry Snape, Peter
Conlan, Bernard Lawrence, Ivan Stanbrook, Ivor
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Lawson, Nigel Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Corbett, Robin Le Marchant, Spencer Strang, Gavin
Cormack, Patrick Lipton, Marcus Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Critchley, Julian Loyden, Eddie Tierney, Sydney
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Luard, Evan Tinn, James
Dalyell, Tam Luce, Richard Tomlinson, John
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Townsend, Cyril D.
Dunnett, Jack McAdden, Sir Stephen Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE) McElhone, Frank Ward, Michael
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) MacFarquhar, Roderick Watkinson, John
Ennals, David Marquand, David Weetch, Ken
Fairgrieve, Russell Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald Whitehead, Phillip
Faulds, Andrew Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove) Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Fell, Anthony Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Flannery, Martin Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Wrigglesworth, Ian
Fookes, Miss Janet Molloy, William Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Ford, Ben Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Forrester, John Morris, Michael (Northampton S) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'wd) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Mr. Roger Stott and
Freud, Clement Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Mr. Neville Sandelson.
Beith, A. J. Hardy, Peter Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Biffen, John Hooley, Frank Spriggs, Leslie
Braine, Sir Bernard Hooson, Emlyn Stanley, John
Craig, Rt Hon W. (Belfast E) James, David Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Cryer, Bob Kilfedder, James Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Urwin, T. W.
Doig, Peter Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Durant, Tony Mudd, David Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
English, Michael Neubert, Michael Wise, Mrs Audrey
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) Newens, Stanley
Eyre, Reginald Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Ross, William (Londonderry) Rt. Hon. E. Fernyhough and
Gray, Hamish Spearing, Nigel Mr. John Lee.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mike Thomas, Mr. Roger Stott, Mr. Nicholas Winterton, Mr. Patrick Cormack, Mr. Marcus Lipton, Mrs. Millie Miller, Mr. Stephen Ross, Mr. John Tomlinson. Mr. Ted Graham, Dr. J. Dickson Mabon and Mr. David Marquand.